It is hard to believe that Arlo Parks is only 20 years old. The wisdom and maturity that oozes from her lyrics are indicative of someone with many more years of life behind them. In the Londoner’s debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams, we get our first full-length glimpse of a young artist with an extremely promising career ahead of her.
It is Parks’ lyrical prowess that really carries the album and opening with a minute of spoken word on its titular track is the perfect way to draw attention to this fact. It’s a style that she returns to at a number of points, with spoken interludes on ‘Hope’ and ‘Portra 400’ reminding the listener that this is not just a work of music but of poetry too.
Parks has an impressive ability to balance the seriousness of her lyrics with perfect pop hooks that will inevitably be stuck in your head for days to come, lamenting “Wouldn’t it be lovely to feel something for once/wouldn’t it be lovely to feel worth something” on ‘Hurt’ with a remarkably upbeat tone. The smooth piano progressions on ‘Hope’ signal a transition to a section of the album that is a little less sugary-sweet. The haunting harmonies of ‘Black Dog’ and the ‘Caroline’ chorus are some of the standout moments of the album; where Parks narrates the breakdown of a relationship and proves that it is not just the lyrics that are worthy of acclaim, but also her vocal range.
Throughout the rest of the album, Parks continues to switch between poppy choruses and lo-fi RnB beats with expert control. Although her silky-smooth vocals predominantly tell the stories of relationship strains and breakdowns, the album never feels like a broken record. Parks chooses not to get bogged down by self-pity, focusing instead on healing and moving forward, asking “Why don’t you just go” on stand-out track ‘Just Go’ and preaching “Some of these folks wanna make you cry/But you gotta trust how you feel inside” on ‘Green Eyes’.
The real strength in Park’s lyrics lies in her ability to balance relatable themes with her own deeply personal and specific experiences. Whether it’s pining after an unrequited lover in ‘Eugene’ or struggling with an oppressive relationship on ‘Bluish’, Parks is an accomplished narrator who switches seamlessly between first- and second-person narratives without ever losing the broad accessibility of her lyrics.
In a world that can often feel isolating, listening to Collapsed in Sunbeams feels a little like spending time with a friend who knows just the right things to say. It’s a pretty impressive feat for a 20-year old. With a few more years of life experience behind her, Parks could soon be unstoppable.
Header image: Arlo Parks. Credit: DIY.