British singer, songwriter and poet Arlo Parks has, at last, connected a crop of tracks that make up a compact encounter with an album, which has been nearly unprecedented until now in 2021. Her debut record “Collapsed In Sunbeams” encapsulates an incredibly comforting atmosphere which correlates to the hardships that she has persevered throughout her life and places on display her talent for the crafting of tunes that perfectly balance melancholy and hopefulness, while concurrently flaunting her wide-ranging musical influences through the dense, yet broad sonic palettes that she is accompanied by.
Firstly, I assume that it is important to give a little bit of background about this artist, as this is her debut and it is likely that most people aren’t too familiar with her work. She is a woman that is half Nigerian, quarter Chadian and quarter French who learned how to speak French before English and that also identifies herself as bissexual, which I’m only mentioning since it is related to the music, as she hints at glimpses of ambiguous topical applications throughout this project and aligns a track that is supposed to straightforwardly push LGBTQ+ rights by telling a tale of a ruined relationship due to the lack of acceptance of the general public, namely “Green Eyes”. It is principal to touch on her upbringing and who she is as a person, as that evidently reflects on the music. This forward-thinking and modern personality that blooms pierces her musicality, as she oozes quite an ecletic arsenal of inspirations. On her Apple Music interview, which is a must read/watch if you wish to discover some behind the scenes curiosities, she cites as influences the novelist Zadie Smith, writer, feminist and activist Audre Lorde, poet Eileen Myles and directly mentions the label Motown and the specific genre of 70s Zambian psychedelic rock, amongst a host of other branches that have clearly impacted the trajectory of her career and the outcome of this record, which she didn’t precisely indicate, that is to say jazz and afrobeat. Additionally, as particular artists that have shaped up the manoeuvres around this body of work, she referred to an excessively large array of musicians such as The Supremes, MF DOOM, Tame Impala, TLC, Radiohead, The Beatles, Nick Drake, Sufjan Stevens, Frank Ocean, Air, Stereolab, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tirzah, Beach House, Portishead and Adrianne Lenker. This haphazard collection of creators that she looks up to ends up having substantial consequences on “Collapsed In Sunbeams”, even if subtly, as virtually all of those musical acts turn out to spark the creativity that led to Arlo Parks’ distinctive bedroom pop approach.
With those in mind, she combines them in this DIY and slightly lo-fi home-made and cozy formula of a cheap aesthetic, tuneful soul inspired melodies, choruses that resonate as a cry for help, spoken word passages that she was keen to implement in order to bring up her poet facet and really toned-down and tranquil yet labyrinthine instrumentals that flow loosely and remain as impressively rhythmic for a presentation of this form, organizing this conflicting statement which endures as concomitantly idyllic and desolate, while not depending too stiffly on emotions. All of those may surround the ideals of the work but they do not limit it, as from the first cut to the last the release dribbles congruously almost as if we’re watching a movie and we’re continuously progressing through its 10 essential elements; cinematography was also a subject that was discussed on that Apple Music interview, which obviously guides the consequent flux of the record. As she deposits leaden emphasis on this, something that must have undergone along the same lines of that judgement was the overall length of “Collapsed In Sunbeams”, as anything that categorizes within the entertainment division is better off shorter than longer, music being no exception. The sequencing was an ingredient that was on Arlo Parks’ mind throughout the album’s formation and such forms it to discharge this cinematic and harmonious surface throughout its tracklisting. That endeavour is also elevated by the volatile song structures, which strengthen that notion and act as an equivalent to an absorbing plot in a movie, which would tend to keep the spectators on the edge of their seats, here they recollect the listener’s attention. With that remark, the genres in which she bifurcates to are not left behind amidst this notorious concept that Arlo Parks conceived, it appears as we begin with this much more common soul proposition in the first song, but, as the effort keeps gushing, so provide company the genre fusions since the ramifications get more and more complex, singularly with its imminent trip hop direction, as the bass lines and drums grow to be heftier and punchier as we delve deeper into the project.
Everything follows this sense of development that rings like a film, even the songwriting. Arlo Parks has come a long way and she will definitely improve even further in the future, however, as it stands, her lyricism is rather well founded with her poetic and spoken word roots. There’s a great deal of assorted subject matters on this work, some more elementary and some more touching, but all of it matches the overall mood that the record emits, that being gloomy, yet expectant and not too ruthless or self-deprecating in a way; Arlo Parks is depicting saddening episodes or struggles, yet she is not trying to oblige the listeners to feel sorry for her nor for them to be too harsh on themselves. The storytelling and poetic means are gritty and tragic, as she presents a crowd of topics that are extremely diverse, ranging from tales of unrequited love, opening up about her sexuality, the fear of loneliness disguised through an incident that occurred with a friend of hers, dealing with toxic people and losing your innocence when you’re young, amongst others, all of it which Arlo Parks manages to enhance and nuance with her moody, gentle and beguiling vocal performances.
All of this is done in an ideal way. It doesn’t get humdrum at all with any of its constituents, as the minimalistic and dim productions always find a way to shine throughout the whole duration of the effort and retain a lighthearted aura, even if in the midst of all the solemnity that is being covered lyrically. It is certainly reminiscent of something rough around the edges, hence the bedroom pop denomination, but that doesn’t stop it from being layered and continuously altering throughout each individual song span, which can be a bit laborious to find within the subgenre, therefore “Collapsed In Sunbeams” is worth a spin just for that alone. Not only does it leak that low-grade, yet well executed strain, even so it’s also vastly pleasant on the ears and well structured, combining the best out of two polar opposite worlds. Arlo Parks is able of evoking so many disparate feelings out of you with her equivocal songwriting and that is worth paying an ode to; she is certainly clever, but that expands to the musicianship as well, as she is skilful enough to very narrowly shift her influences and types of instrumentation, generating a record that does not take 180 degree turns from track to track, however is instead slowly rotating for its whole extent, not straying away from its main focus but perpetually experimenting silently. I’ll finish it with this: Arlo Parks is extremely capable of exploiting her surroundings to their maximum aptitudes and delivers a venture that is undoubtedly worthwhile, yet she can, every now and then, still fall a little flat with her performances and thus excluding that thorough album of the year potential that she might’ve had on her hands. However, the room for improvement is only monolithic, as ambition is what is striving the artist.
Favorite tracks: Hurt, Too Good, Hope, Caroline, Green Eyes, For Violet, Bluish and Portra 400.
Least favorite tracks: Black Dog, Just Go and Eugene.