Collapsed In Sunbeams by Arlo Parks album review by Randy Randic for Northern Transmissions

Transgressive Records

9

Arlo Parks

Collapsed In Sunbeams

Canadian mystic Manly P. Hall wrote, “They wander in darkness seeking light, failing to realize that the light is in the heart of the darkness.” In an inadvertent way, Hall’s words sketch out the inherent dichotomy of Arlo Parks’ music.

As Parks told the New York Times’ David Peisner, “It’s searching for light. I find it harder to write about joy because it’s simpler. There’s more complexity in sad things. But I’m a defiant optimist.” Based in London’s West side, the 20-year-old Parks, aka Anais Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, exploded on the scene at the age of 17, releasing “Cola,” which amassed 15 million streams on Spotify and appeared in HBO’s I May Destroy You series. Since then, Parks has released “Green Eyes,” “Hurt,” “Black Dog,” “Eugene,” and “Caroline.”

Her widely awaited debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams, lies just around the corner, dropping on January 29 via Transgressive Records. The album’s title – Collapsed In Sunbeams – comes from Zadie Smith’s 2005 novel, On Beauty.

The album mirrors not only Parks’ continuous evolution as an artist, but her potpourri of disparate influences, including Thelonious Monk, Miles David, Prince, ‘80s French-pop, Tricky, Joan Armatrading, Jill Scott, and the Cure, along with the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed.

Last year, Parks’ visibility burgeoned, with appearances in Gucci’s campaign and on the covers of numerous high-profile, slick magazines – Evening Standard, Rollacoaster, NME, and Dork, along with inclusion in 2020’s Dazed 100 and winning the BBC’s Introducing Artist Of The Year Award.

Recorded for the most part in the midst of lockdown, the songs on the album pull from Parks’ personal diary: “This whole album is basically just my journal. It’s a time capsule of adolescence.”

Parks’ sound refuses pigeonholing. The most convenient term coming to mind is pop, but in this case is patently reductive because her sound folds in ingredients of everything from folk to jazz to hip-hop.

Encompassing 12-tracks, entry points include “Hurt,” riding a rumbling R&B-flavored pop drum shuffle topped by Parks’ sensuously velvety voice, vaguely reminiscent of Alanis Morissette, only more sumptuous, narrating the concept of pain’s intensity diminishing over time.

“I know you can’t let go of anything at the moment / Just know it won’t hurt so / Won’t hurt so much forever.” “Hope” blends jazz-lite savors with gleaming pop textures, delivering a tasty piano-driven tune chock-full of jangly coloration. The indulgent, soulful layers of “Caroline” merge with delicious alt-pop aromas into a low-slung tune radiating cashmere touches conjuring up memories of Sade, yet more polished.

Explaining, Parks shares, “‘Caroline’ is an exercise in people watching and seeing situations unfold without context. It’s an exploration of how something once full of healthy passion can dissolve in an instant.”

A personal favorite, “Black Dog,” whose title references Winston Churchill’s simile for depression, ripples with whiffs of jazz, while Parks’ dulcet tones mirror auras of gentle melancholy as she conveys her desire to scatter such dark feelings. The song’s opening line encapsulates the sensation, “I’d lick the grief right off your lips.”

“For Violet” opens on murky smoldering colors as lustrous accents imbue the tune with ghostly textures, emphasizing Parks’ dreamy, reverie-laced timbres. Whereas “Eugene,” melds soft pop and ‘90s R&B into silky currents of music as Parks reveals the anguish of watching the object of her secret affection develop feelings for Eugene.

“Hey, I know I’ve been a little bit off, and that’s my mistake / I kind of fell half in love, and you’re to blame / I guess I just forgot that we’ve been mates since day / Yet I don’t know what to say.”

“Bluish” travels on cool jazz essences capped by percolating luminous inflections. A thumping kick-drum and vibrating bassline imbue the rhythm with hefty depth juxtaposed against Parks’ mellow, crystalline voice.

At once effortless and dripping with deluxe sonic nuances, the focal point of Collapsed In Sunbeams is the crème de la crème fragrance of Arlo Parks’ exquisite voice, embroidered with her elysian lyricism.