Collapsed in Sunbeams, Arlo Parks: an Album Review
Updated: May 4, 2021
Making rainbows out of something painful
Arlo Parks has had an incredible 2020, and she looks to continue riding her critical acclaim all the way into 2021 with her hotly anticipated debut album, ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’. Being pegged as the voice of the new generation at just 20 years old, her lo-fi sound matched with her obvious talent for poetry has quickly become a fan favourite for the lost generation, struggling with their identity and feelings in an age of isolation. Collapsed in Sunbeams offers a distinct and delicate insight into the thoughts of Arlo and her own experiences, alongside the raw emotion associated with mental health.
As a poet, she begins her debut album with a spoken work piece recorded in her bedroom, aiming to create ‘an avalanche of imagery’ in order to generate the warm, emotional environment for the rest of album. This piece comforts the listener with small intricate details of feeding a cat, or slicing artichokes, to allow us to enter a space where we “shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of [Arlo]”
This brings us into the second song, ‘Hurt’. Accompanied by the consistent rhythm of drums and guitar, Arlo brings together her thoughts on pain. Her smooth and breathy vocals wrap the listener in comfort, telling them “it won’t hurt so much forever”. This song sets the tone of the album, an album focused on the complex details of emotion and how it is ok to feel down, but there is always something to look forward to…
This feeling of happiness is projected immediately in the following track, Too Good, a funky and catchy guitar provides a danceable backdrop to what ultimately remains a deep insight into the issue of communication in a relationship, observing the air “fragrant and thick with our silence”.
With mental health and the feeling of isolation in a generation torn by a pandemic, Arlo seeks to tackle the issue of depression and isolation in ‘Hope’, working through how nobody is alone in the current situation. This constant expression of comfort is present throughout the album, showing that despite the clear emphasis on the torment of depression and mental illness, there is, and always will be, hope.
Continuing her focus on relationships, Caroline, offers a musical commentary on the agony and heartbreak surrounding relationships through a fight between an artsy couple. The song again, looks to the smaller details and intricacy’s, aiming to provide a clear visual depiction of the argument Parks witnessed. This song, is arguably one of the most general songs in the album, despite its lovely sound, I felt wanting more from someone who is demonstrable a beautiful lyricist.
Black Dog, a metaphor for depression coined by Churchill, immediately shows us just how well written Parks songs can be. One of Arlos most well received songs, Black Dog is considered one of the most devastating songs of 2020. The guitar gently melts around Parks’ reassuring vocals commenting on the stark and familiar issue of depression and isolation amid the pandemic. This raw song aims at understanding the battle to overcome depression and how it plays out in the real world. Simple lines such as “Let's go to the corner store and buy some fruit, I would do anything to get you out your room, Just take your medicine and eat some food” present the harsh reality of trying to pull someone you love out of a dark hole.
This stark portrayal of depression moves us towards the modern portrayal of homophobia, as an openly bisexual artist, she provides hope in how we must trust how we feel inside and shine. The song, whilst still holding an emotional theme of feeling scared to hold hands in public, moves us away from the extremely sad Black Dog, to a brighter outlook, sticking with the continuous theme of hope.
Just go and its uplifting and warm instrumentals offer a cheery outlook into breakups, in the happy feeling of removing a toxic ex from your life and that lifting feeling once they have simply left your life. I found this song to quickly become one of the highlights in the album, a tune that can be blasted post-breakup to quickly lighten the mood.
And just as quickly as Arlo brings us into joy, she carries us into a dark, deep and gritty song exploring the strain on friendships in attempting to free someone from their self-imposed shackles. In how no matter how much effort we may put into to them, “it feels like nothing’s changed”. The song explores the dark moments in life that are void of innocence, and the toll they take on us. Specifically, Arlo is referencing the abusive father of her friend from college who she attempts to console and comfort, with little success. This song departs from her more innocent message of emotions as something that can pass and be overcome, to a much darker perception of arguably more inescapable situations such as domestic violence.
Continuing her focus on relationships and friendships, Arlo explores the blurred lines and confusion she associated with bisexuality growing up. Referring to the agony, jealousy and confusion that rise when platonic and romantic love become mixed, specifically her love for a straight girl in a relationship with a man named Eugene. Symbols such as “I had a dream, we kissed, And it was all amethyst” refers to the colour purple, reference to lesbianism in the LGBTQ+ community. The songs explores a very real issue in the community of attraction to platonic friends and the pain associated with it.
Blue, the penultimate song, offers an absolute treasure of imagery regarding the claustrophobic feeling of not being able to breathe in a relationship (the title blue referring to the colour we go when choked). The catchy instrumentals depart slightly from the usual guitar focus, to provide these deep and rich bass synths and kicks that fill our ears, contrasted with Arlos high and airy vocals – the varied production provides a highpoint in the album.
Perhaps a perfect summary of the album, Parks hits the last song, Porta 400, off with the lyrics “making rainbows out of something painful”. The song feels like the rolling credits of the album, bringing the us in to hear Arlo’s final depiction of emotion and relationships. In this, she looks to the breakdown of relationships “wrecked by peoples unhealthy coping mechanisms”. The production on this song differs from the other songs, with Paul Epworth taking over from Gianluca Buccellati, and perhaps offers an insight into the future of Arlo Parks creative process.
Last year was a strong year for Parks, and facing the mounting pressure being crowned as the forefront of the new generation, she looks to have kept up. Collapsed in Sunbeams offers a fresh look into the emotion and pain of relationships, friendships, sexuality, and the small things in between. Her strength as an instrumentalists is the only thing that sells the album short ironically, with a reliance on guitar, the more alternative production towards the latter half of the album gives a taste of what a full album where Parks is more adventurous with the production would like. Despite this, the album carries the weight of Arlo’s gilded reviews and appraisals and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for the future.
Written by Jack Barton