It once again took me way too long to discover the beauty and charm of an outstanding artist. One with immense potential to become a leading figure in today’s music.
Arlo Parks was the girl everybody was talking about prior to her debut full-length release. Collapsed In Sunbeams quickly shows why that happened. The young artist displays eminent qualities and indicates her role as a symbol of a whole generation. Today, I am catching up with Arlo Parks’ collection of immersive personal stories with a universal twist.
Stepping into Arlo Parks’ world is a magical experience. It takes you away from the real world and prompts you to explore a neatly arranged collection of stories consisting of intimate details from the artists’ own life-defining experiences.
I kept spinning the album over and over again, completely overtaken by its unique charm, atmosphere, and unforced delivery of sensual, intimate stories. Also, this animation is so captivating!
Arlo Parks first strikes with the intricate poetry her music is built upon (even though in most cases melody comes first, as Parks confirms).
The title track of the debut album is a spoken-word poetry itself. The opener gently leads listeners into the mind, soul, and past of the Arlo Parks. It sets the mood before completely engulfing them into the following tales of romance, identity discovery, hope, empowerment, and heart-piercing pain.
Read more about how poetry affected Arlo Parks’ debut album and some of the stories behind the tracks in the interview the artist did with Complex. Photo by Alex Kurunis, poems by Arlo Parks, composition belongs to Complex.
Some of the tracks (Black Dog, Eugene) started as poems, as well, and later got reworked to become the songs we now know. Parks’ love for words and her dedication to their meticulous arrangement is imprinted on the record.
The elements that would shape the distinctive Arlo Parks musical aesthetic are visible in her early releases as well
The inviting poetry foundation is matched with various influences mixed together and filtered to create the distinctive style of the artist. During the full-length (and in her early works), we can spot major jazz, soul, ambient, lo-fi, hip-hop, and alternative notes all bent in the Arlo Parks perspective.
My album is a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding my adolescence and the people that shaped it. It is rooted in storytelling and nostalgia – I want it to feel both universal and hyper specific.Arlo Parks for NME
It is interesting to dive into the stories told in the album. They are painted by hyper-specific and very personal details strictly belonging to Parks. But this is where the next impressive element hits.
Despite being so unique and intimate, the tracks in Collapsed In Sunbeams are equally universal – it is easy to connect them to your own life, putting the perfect soundtrack to individual nostalgia and blurred or vivid memories.
Arlo Parks is most likely going to turn into one of Generation Z’s defining artists. Brought into times of confusion and turmoil, surrounded by the uneasy wreckage of a shifting value system and lifestyle, Generation Z write their stories with unapologetic individualism and their own idealistic views.
The young artist encapsulates all of that and makes a tidy exposition of characteristics defining this generation.
The gentle introduction of Collapsed In Sunbeams allows for a brief moment of preparation. It outlines the idea of the album with great attention to detail and seamlessly leads into the following piece.
A triumphant overall feel enfolds Hurt. The song shines with a dancy vibe and an uplifting, inspirational message.
The majority of the track goes through pain and hardship with excruciating accuracy. However, the whole point of that is to highlight that all those negative emotions come to an end, and things eventually improve. The end of the song leaves listeners with hope, positivity, comfort and understanding.
Why’d we make the simplest things so hard?
Too Good follows with precise simplicity. The typical for Arlo Parks hyper-specific details and situations appear. This is the point of the album, where we realize that those strictly personal stories are also universal. The parallels with your own experiences will likely be easy to spot.
The track gets deeper and more emotionally elaborate with each line. It shows the pain of dealing with someone who refuses to share and express their feelings.
Despite not having a grand concept, Collapsed In Sunbeams is perfectly arranged in terms of topics flowing from one song to the other.
Hope uses simple melodies gradually developing into sophisticated arrangements introducing various elements in terms of sound. The fragmented poetry nature of the lyrics explores a dark, overwhelming feeling we all experience eventually.
Once again, after the painful details regarding the negative feelings, an aftertaste of reassurance and hope prevails.
This song is about a friend of mine—but also explores that universal idea of being stuck inside, feeling depressed, isolated and alone, and being ashamed of feeling that way, too.
It surrounds isolation, being present in your pain and knowing that you’re not the only one on the planet feeling low. I think especially in times like these it’s important to focus on the inevitability that things will get better.Arlo Parks via Stereogum (January 2021)
Caroline has an extreme focus on storytelling. It is a touching story presented with simple, but fitting harmonies highlighting the delicacy of the topic.
The story behind it is interesting as well – Parks caught a glimpse of a couple’s argument while waiting for the bus and developed the fictional narrative taking place in the song.
Even though the inspiration here is not a personal experience of the artist, the situation is once again quite universal and familiar for many of us.
‘Caroline’ is an exercise in people watching and seeing situations unfold without context. It’s an exploration of how something once full of healthy passion can dissolve in an instant.Arlo Parks via NME (November 2020)
Incredible video as well!
Black Dog – one of the songs that started as a poem, is probably the hardest hitting piece on the record.
It is an illustrative representation of depression from the point of view of an observer desperately trying to help a friend. Support and compassion overflow from the delicate track, as well as the darkness and struggle of mental health complications.
The song openly promotes vocalization of those issues and urges people to seek help and be open to receiving it. The stripped-down sound enhances the importance of the explored topic and creates a moving atmosphere.
Flowing into another important and delicate subject, Green Eyes is an exposé of the struggles and hardships of a queer experience in modern days. Even though a lot of positive development happened in this aspect in recent years, there is a lot more to achieve.
The story here deals with homophobia and disrespect as an indirect factor for the queer life and headspace. The focus, however, is on personal perception and fear.
Following the narrative, we find out that the protagonist’s relationship ends early because of the internal pressure her partner puts on herself – the parents’ reaction, society’s judgement, etc.
I wish that your parents had been kinder to you
They made you hate what you were out of habit
Remember when they caught us makin’ out after school
Your dad said he’d felt like he lost you
The instrumental creates a warm, comforting mood contrasting the heartbreaking lyrics and comes to show compassion, support, and understanding.
Just Go flips the page to another real-life story with everlasting importance. It is an anthem for the importance of letting go of toxicity and standing your right for happiness. There are no hard feelings or spite present in the song, just self-worth taking a frontal place.
Won’t deny I miss your choice of words, but I can’t go back
Can we appreciate the consistency of the lyric video style?
The next track is a bittersweet illustration of the moment when you understand that life is a bit heavier and more complicated than you initially imagined. For Violet has a similar vibe and emotional value to Green Eyes in the sense of exposing struggles and harsh experience inevitably becoming part of every person’s story.
Arlo Parks preserves her trademark of leaving listeners with positive feelings despite the emotional outburst.
Poem-turned-song Eugene is another interesting story that happened to the artist. It is worth noting that the antagonist here is not someone else but the narrator herself.
The track shows a person falling in love with her best friend, who enters a relationship with someone else. This gives birth to jealousy and spite endangering the friendship even though love remains at the centre of the story.
It explores the agony, jealousy and confusion that comes to light when the lines between platonic and romantic love blur.Arlo Parks in a press release
Bluish tells another love-related story with interpretations based on personal perception and experiences. It has a different twist compared to the rest of the album – the theme here is being suffocated and pressured by the other person.
It’s not easy when you call me in the dead of the night
When I say I need some space I shouldn’t have to ask you twice
I consider closing tracks essential for the listening experience. Considering the fine arrangement of the tracklist so far, it does not come as a surprise that the final piece of Collapsed In Sunbeams is once again a perfect choice.
Portra 400 is a euphoric recap of the album. It presents a thought-provoking theme with high emotional value. The emphasis is the appearance of unhealthy coping mechanisms and the strive to deal with situations in whatever way seems right.
Collapsed In Sunbeams seems like the average “new wave pop” record at first. Minimalistic instrumentals and beats surround the outlines of each track before introducing elaborate elements and steadily closing the soundscape environment supporting the narrative.
It also seems there is no grand concept in the record at first. But the truth is it lives to fulfil its purpose – it shows a collection of stories fundamental for Arlo Parks’ life. Each track is a separate experience told most beautifully, often leaving listeners with a major personal takeaway and a feeling of hope and empowerment.
It is one spectacular start leaving us eager to see where Parks will go next, what kind of twists will she implement in her special vision, and what part of her life journey she will let us in next.
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