Photo: Alex Kurun
As the rest of the world gives Arlo Parks her flowers, the "Cola" singer is determined to stop and smell them. For those who haven't already seen her Tiny Desk concert or BBC Radio 1 performance with Phoebe Bridgers, Parks' debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, serves as a concise introduction. According to the London-born artist, the 12-song project is "a series of vignettes and intimate portraits surrounding [her] adolescence and the people that shaped it."
Collapsed In Sunbeams opens with spoken word, a nod to Parks' beginnings as a poet. However, the rest of the album traverses the playing field of modern music. Be it the funky bassline on "Hurt," the surf rock guitar on "Too Good," or the synth embellishments on "Portra 400," her exploration of different genres is tethered to a folk ethos.
Citing musicians like Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith as inspirations, Parks' affinity for the singer-songwriter tradition shines through in her work. Like her forebears, the 20-year-old artist has nothing to prove. Her skill has little to do with superfluous vocabulary or lengthy prose; rather, what validates Parks as a writer is her ability to find the universal in the "hyper-specific," as she calls it.
In one instance, Parks witnessed 30 seconds of a fight while riding the bus one day. In a stroke of serendipity (though, not for the unhappy couple), Parks was moved to fill in the blanks through song, which eventually led to "Caroline." The intimate details - the spilt coffee, a ripped skirt - lend a personal element to a track that is grounded by the all-too-familiar feeling of speaking yet not being heard.
Collapsed In Sunbeams relegates Parks to the role of omniscient narrator. Her wispy soprano drifts from portrait to portrait of the people in her life. "Hurt" and "Hope" see Charlie and Millie descend into numbness. The titular "Eugene" is evidently a jerk. Dropping in to share observations, biting criticism, and the occasional plea, Parks fits on to the next song just as quickly as she came.
Parks extends herself to others. It's clear on "Black Dog," where she desperately tries to pull a friend out of depression, to no avail. "For Violet" is dedicated to a loved one stuck in an abusive household. As the album progresses, the 20-year-old artist begins to find her own voice. She embraces empathy as her greatest strength, but recognizes that letting go means taking a step back while leaving the door open a crack. In her own words, "It's a story about those big moments that you have to weather in friendships, and asking how you help somebody without over-challenging yourself.
Listen to Collapsed In Sunbeams below: