Arlo Parks, "Collapsed in Sunbeams" (PIAS)
Parks wrote her own job description into the closing song on her debut album. "Making rainbows out of something painful," she sings in "Portra 400." The song is named after a Kodak color film: a way to preserve images. Parks' mission as a songwriter is to merge careful observation with clearheaded uplift, trying to provide solace without illusions. "I know you can't let go of anything at the moment," she counsels in "Hurt," then adds, "Just know it won't hurt so much forever."
Parks, 20, was born in Paris. She grew up in London, and in her teens she turned from poetry to writing songs and constructing beats.
Parks moved back in with her parents during Britain's COVID-19 lockdown and returned to writing music in her old bedroom, sporadically releasing some of the songs from "Collapsed in Sunbeams" during 2020. Her main collaborator on the new album, Gianluca Buccellati, produced much of the music in his home studio.
The music here is restrained but far from austere. Parks coos the melodies over low-slung hip-hop beats and guitars that can tangle like indie-rock or syncopate like funk. Meanwhile, her vocals arrive in layers of unison and harmony and from all directions in the mix, conjuring both solidarity and spaciousness.
Parks' songs often place her as a friend or bystander, watching characters in uneasy situations. In "Caroline," she watches a couple having a bitter fight in public. In "Black Dog," she struggles to rescue a friend struggling with mental illness.
Romance is iffy at best in Parks' songs. "Too Good" depicts a potential relationship going sour over a suave funk groove. In "Bluish," she contends with a partner so clingy she feels strangled.
"Hope" is as close as the album gets to an anthem, and it's not close at all. Parks sings about Mary, who is joyless, isolated and deeply depressed. The best Parks can offer is empathy. "You're not alone like you think you are," she sings. "We all have scars/I know it's hard." Somehow, there's comfort in that.
Jon Pareles, New York Times
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