Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams review – fizzing with r’n’b flavour

Fri, Jan 22, 2021, 06:00

   
 

Album:
Collapsed in Sunbeams

Artist:
Arlo Parks

Label:
Transgressive

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

Much of the hype surrounding Arlo Parks has focused on her precocious wordsmithery: although she only completed her A-Level exams two years ago, the 20-year-old Londoner’s striking way with language, deftly demonstrated on last year’s singles Cola and Black Dog, is undoubtedly arresting and coloured with an experienced worldview that belies her tender years.

Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho could well have (and may yet still) enjoyed a fruitful career as a performance poet. Still, her talents stretch far beyond the written word as her debut album is incredibly musically engaging too.

Collapsed in Sunbeams is, in her own words, “a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding my adolescence and the people that shaped it”. For most, that might entail self-indulgent retellings of schoolyard dramas, stroppy arguments with parents, and tales of puppy love heartache that begin with “Dear Diary”. In Parks’s hands, they are beautifully woven, evocative stories that pull you in from the first line.

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Caroline, for example, weaves together a personal strand with Parks’s casual observance of a couple arguing on the street; others take a first-person approach, such as the affecting Black Dog, a song that empathetically examines a loved one’s mental illness with lines like “Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this/ And honestly, it’s terrifying”. Green Eyes is a love song with an LGBT+ slant, recalling how the object of her affection “could not hold my hand in public/ Felt their eyes judging our love, and baying for blood”. Eugene depicts a complicated love triangle between Parks, a friend and her deadbeat boyfriend.

Despite the poignant truth-telling of many of these songs, the melancholy is balanced by a sense of hope and empowerment, best heard on the defiant Just Go and Hope, which promises listeners “You’re not alone”.

You might imagine that the resultant soundtrack is suitably solemn, but these songs bubble and fizz with an R&B and soul flavour, many of which recall the best of the genre’s 1990s era. Fans of acts such as Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu will find parallels here, particularly on Green Eyes and the summery, hop-skip vibe of Too Good and Hope.

Parks’s voice brims with empathy, soul and tenderness, effortlessly changing cadence depending on each song’s subject matter. The tracklist slips into a soulful groove that shifts, clatters and slinks between the salsa rhythm and subtle electronic patter of tracks such as Bluish, the delicate, glittering strum of Parks’s guitar, or the slo-mo mournful rumble of For Violet.

It all makes for a seriously refreshing collection of songs, and one of the first great albums of 2021.