Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams is an early contender for album of the year

The debut album from singer/songwriter Arlo Parks, Collapsed in Sunbeams, cannot be praised enough. Parks’ voice carries the listener on a wild journey through the darkest and lightest times of her life, diving into themes of depression, isolation, sexuality and self-acceptance. Yet, she does so in the calmest, most relaxing way possible.

The album opens with a passage of poetry that immediately grabs the listener’s attention. There is a sense of intimacy as Parks addresses the listener saying, “I see myself sitting beside you…” This album is deeply personal, and this spoken word piece illustrates that.

From the very first listen of this album, the quality of the song writing stood out. Parks creates characters in this musical world, naming all the people that appear in the album. When she sings about Alice’s depression on ‘Black Dog’, as a listener, I’m terrified with Parks that Alice “won’t survive this”.

Depression and isolation are themes that run through Collapsed in Sunbeams. ‘Hope’ deals beautifully with the idea of feeling ashamed of being alone and isolated. The chorus is a rallying cry that “you’re not alone.” A message that feels even more pertinent with the most recent lockdown.

Parks also explores themes surrounding self-acceptance and sexuality in her debut. ‘Green Eyes’ takes the listener to Parks’ adolescence where she reminisces on a relationship with a woman that breaks down through the attitudes of society. She sings “could not hold my hand in public / felt their eyes judgin’ our love and baying for blood”. The reluctance felt by Kaia to show her sexuality in public is responded to by Parks as she triumphantly roars “but you gotta trust how you feel inside”.

On the song ‘Eugene’, Parks looks at an unrequited love in a childhood friend from her adolescence. The song is titled ‘Eugene’ after the person that Parks’ love interest is in a relationship with. She turns her focus away from her unrequited love and directs her frustration onto Eugene. A music video accompanied the release of this song, directed by the Coyle Larner brothers, one of which is the UK rapper Loyle Carner.

Where this album reaches its peak for me, is on the song ‘Caroline’. Parks’ poetic song writing truly comes into a world of its own on this track. The track is a simple story about “a fight between an artsy couple” but the realism that Parks creates within this track is incredibly powerful. The small details of the man spilling his coffee, Caroline’s “eyes bright with disappointment”, all place the listener into the world of Collapsed in Sunbeams.In Collapsed in Sunbeams, Arlo Parks has created an album that has provided great comfort to me during lockdown. It reminds me of the comfort I get from artists such as Mac Miller, Elliott Smith and Phoebe Bridgers. Although it’s still early, I would be very surprised if this album doesn’t become a strong contender for my album of the year.

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Tom Manning

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September 2021
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