Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
For Generation Z’s emerging artists, mental health has become something smooth-voiced pop hopefuls are happy to address, rather than a subject mainly restricted to troubled icons, male indie warblers and screaming emo frontmen. South London singer-songwriter Arlo Parks’s introspective breakthrough EPs, Super Sad Generation and Sophie, felt very much of the moment, and now she announces herself fully with her hotly anticipated debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams.
From its opening title track, a self-penned poem, Parks proves herself to be far more than the latest trendy woman of the moment. Each song, from its true opener, the soulful upbeat Hurt, to the jazzy closer Portra 400, manages to deal with its angsty subject matter with an incredible lightness of touch. In between, the openly bisexual 20-year-old often returns to address the difficulty of teenage same-sex relationships, and she does so in a way that feels lived, rather than merely repurposing clichés about forbidden love. In Eugene, an ode to the pain of crushing on a friend with an awful boyfriend with hints of Radiohead, Parks even manages a jokey reference to Sylvia Plath.
Green Eyes, meanwhile, is a genuinely affecting depiction of losing a lover to parents and peers’ homophobia that evokes the blend of indie and jazz sensibilities that turned Amy Winehouse into a star, albeit without the Camden legend’s unique vocal force. Other songs like For Violet show the influence of Portishead’s melancholy trip hop – a favourite of the singer.
On Caroline and Black Dog the youngster also looks into others’ troubles, with the former track observing a couple warring on the bus, and the latter an examination of the cruelty of a friend’s depression. Black Dog, based on another poem and originally released as a single last year, feels like the album’s statement track. It’s a song that’s unflinching in its lyrics as Parks breathily sings about the desperation mental health woes can inflict, over simple harp-like guitar chords.
Collapsed in Sunbeams‘s real triumph, though, isn’t its existential introspection, important and affecting though it is – it’s that it’s such a thoroughly enjoyable, varied and yet coherent record. One can listen to it without paying attention to that, and still find it captivating. It’s an album that shows Parks is an artist who is difficult to define and who could go right to the top.
For further information and future events visit Arlo Parks’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Black Dog here: