Album Review: Arlo Parks – ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’

After bursting onto the scene with singles like Black Dog and Caroline, Arlo Parks continues her impressive rise to superstardom with the release of her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams. Tackling depression, heartbreak, and identity, the album is an intimate and self-reflective realistic journey into modern emotion. Rebecca Hyde offers her thoughts.

Arlo Parks’ first full album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, is all at once a musical autobiography, a realist play, a self-help guide, and a celebration of the struggles of the human being. It uses some of the highlights of Arlo Parks’ releases over the past year, especially her single, Black Dog, which grew popularity for its honest depiction of mental illness. Throughout the record, she discusses depression, love, heartbreak, burnout, and reflects on her own and other’s experiences with queerness and the struggles of discovering and appreciating one’s own identity.

The album opens with a serene poetry track, fifty-five seconds of reflective and loving bliss which give the listener a moment to truly appreciate her accomplished way with words. It acts as an effective prelude to the album, manifesting the feel of Collapsed in Sunbeams through the comforting intimacy of “feeding your cat or slicing artichoke hearts” to the internal reflection of “making peace with our own distortions.” The album’s lyrics are consistently impressive, and this opening track showcases some of the most confident, personal, and poetic lines of the whole record.

‘Personal lyrics combined with warming melodies enable Parks to create a piece of musical artwork out of life’s complex struggles.’

In the following track, Hurt, Arlo Parks brings her feelings to the surface. Simple but mindful, insisting that struggles “won’t hurt so much forever,” Hurt is a sombre acceptance of pain and a direction to recovery. Arlo Parks faces struggle head-on throughout this album, the tone of which is outlined in Porta 400’s opening lyrics of “making rainbows out of something painful”. Her personable lyrics, combined with warming melodies, enable Parks to create a piece of musical artwork out of the complex struggles of everyday life. This form of lyric-writing enables her to open herself up directly to the listener and invite them to join in her catharsis; the listener can hear stories of other people’s everyday struggles and use them to manage and undertake their own.

This act of communal recovery through her music is reflected very confidently through Hope, where Arlo Parks tells both the character in the song, and her audience, “You’re not alone / Like you think you are.” The background for the track has a simple, lo-fi feel; a muffled keyboard combined with disparate guitar notes perfectly undercutting Arlo Parks’ nonchalant vocals. This communal notion in her music can be heard elsewhere in Too Good, with its opening line of “why do we make the simplest things so hard?” – a wholly relatable mantra that personalizes the track before diving head-first into the artist’s own life experiences.

One of her most popular tracks, Black Dog, fits snugly into Collapsed in Sunbeams and is a soliloquy to the heart-wrenching reality of watching a loved one experience depression. Whilst never directly referencing depression or mental illness in the song, she explores the difficulty of loving someone with it, admitting that “honestly, it’s terrifying” whilst trying as hard as possible to get them to leave their room. Black Dog is incredibly intimate, although it explains something that is sadly so universally known and experienced, the listener gets an up-close view of the illness and the effects it has on someone. The track’s opening line – “I’ll lick the grief right off your lips” – demonstrates the desperation and dedication felt by those wanting to help a loved one with depression. It’s beautiful, dismal, and heart-wrenchingly honest.

The strongest track on the record, by far, is Caroline. In a description of a break-up scene, Caroline follows an “artsy couple in the rain” who argue in public and then separately try to deal with the emotions they are left with. The continual motif of “maybe if you took a breath” reflects the long-established thoughts and feelings of any argument, where you spend half of your time thinking of how you wish you had responded, and the other half wishing you hadn’t said so many of the things you did. The track’s beat is steady and mellow, with a simple, reverb-heavy guitar backing and a gorgeously somber chorus of “Caroline… I swear to god I tried” which sits in your mind and forces the listener to feel the raw emotions of this track’s characters’ break up. Eugene, as a track, is also among the best. Released last year, it has a similarly personal element to it, unpicking the troubles of unrequited love and the burning rage of jealousy whilst watching someone else love the person you want to be with most.

“Strong and confident, it’s a record for finding her own voice and promises great things from the future of Parks’ music.”

Collapsed in Sunbeams has a clear set of influences, some of which Arlo Parks has spoken about before. The most obvious of these, which the artist herself has revealed before to be one of her great inspirations, is Radiohead, as many of the tracks have the dismal yet warming milieu of In Rainbows, or the eerie and open feel of Kid A. For Violet’s echoing, droning sounds are hugely akin to Radiohead’s Morning Bell and put alongside Arlo Parks’ vocals and commendable lyrics, create a hugely reflective track that explores family difficulties, personal confidence, and burnout.

Arlo Parks exhibits her best work on Collapsed in Sunbeams, and whilst having several repeated motifs and some similar-sounding beats in the tracks, the incredible lyric-writing and calming atmosphere of the album make it a delight to listen to. Her first full record uses the best of her already released songs and contains no tracks purely for filler, which is better than a lot of already established artists can do. Strong and confident, it’s a record for finding her own voice and promises great things from the future of Parks’ music; fans will consider her snubbed if Collapsed in Sunbeams is not at least shortlisted for some form of award when the season arrives. Still in the early days of her career, Arlo Parks will continue to blossom as an artist, and her supportive fanbase will surely expand as a result of this album.

Written by: Rebecca Hyde

Edited by: Alex Duke

Featured and article image courtesy of Arlo Parks via Facebook.