“Collapsed In Sunbeams,” the debut album from Arlo Parks, lives up to both its hype and its name, capturing the unique thrill of submitting to hope in times of despair.
Released Jan. 29, Anaïs Marinho — known professionally as Arlo Parks — begins her album with spoken-word poetry. It’s startlingly intimate. The listener doesn’t stand adjacent to Parks, witnessing her flinging poetic musings into the air. Rather, Parks speaks directly to them, weaving together strands of imagery to form a gathered, near tangible warmth. Visualization arrives suddenly, commanding and potent.
The music videos accompanying the album capture this intimacy like a firefly in a jar. Sunlight finds the slopes of noses and fills pensive eyes. Polaroids, Sylvia Plath texts and vinyl records lay strewn about, providing a suitable backdrop for nostalgia.
Following her 2019 extended play (EP) “Sophie”, this 12-song, 39-minute album possesses a familiar, yet captivating sound. Vintage soul and acoustic guitar bring softer notes to the mix, contrasting the crisp breakbeats and reverberating bass. Unexpected influences emerge from the ambrosia, ranging from Thom Yorke’s experimental signatures to the spiritual atmospherics of Nujabes. One can even hear the Lily Allen influence on the bouncy “Too Good,” which only partly manages to cloak its many wrenching confessions (“It hurts when you know it’s over / I feel like you never really cared”).
“Caroline” finds Parks recalling a fiery couple’s argument, detailing the encounter itself. She ponders what led up to the outburst and what may have happened afterward. She vividly describes the couple with “Strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage” and eyes “bright with disappointment” before releasing into an explosive chorus.
These habitable soundscapes would be of no use were they not traversed by Parks’ charming, honest pen. Being raised in London to Nigerian/Chadian-French parents, Parks draws from her adolescence in her songwriting. Now 20, she assumes a diaristic tone, writing melodies that could just as easily be hummed resting on someone’s chest as they could be chanted by fans at concerts.
She has a great turn of phrases: “Making peace with our own distortions,” “The air was fragrant and thick with our silence,” “shards of glass live in this feeling,” and “summer in my eyelids.” This unique style helps Parks remain both hyper-specific and universal.
The chorus on soulful “Hope” warms with a repeated, “You’re not alone like you think you are.” It requires full listening to truly register. In challenging times, it’s often easier to reject the negative than it is to fully accept the positive. Even in such despairing times, Parks is giving people something to hope for — a hand to hold, and a sun to melt into.
“Collapsed In Sunbeams” is available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and other streaming services.