Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Tales from the Heart - Arlo Parks' Confidently Smooth Debut

Despite her young age, Arlo Parks has become a representative voice of the new generations, the generations who are growing up with an ever increasing notion of the importance of mental health and an increasing awareness of the systemic injustices and detached social lives of the modern world. There are no grand statements in her music, she just sings from a place of sincerity, which is sometimes the most powerful tool a storyteller can possess.

‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’ has been a long time coming for Parks. It seems like she's been around, doing her thing, for a much longer time than she actually has, but even in the 2 years she has been active so far, she has built a solid following and impressive body of work already. Many of these bolder singles thankfully find their way onto the album, songs like 'Caroline' and 'Black Dog' sound as fresh as they did all those months ago when they were first heard.

Parks writes in a way that sounds like a comforting conversation with a close friend. It would be hard to call her lyricism confessional, but it does carry the same sentimental gravitas that comes with the territory. She name-drops people from her life, mixing them with fresh (and actually realistic) cultural references, fleshing them out as rich characters in a couple of lines, almost hinting at a possibility that you might know these people too. Charlie from ‘Hurt’ watches Twin Peaks and drinks too much when he’s sad, the ‘artsy couple’ in ‘Caroline’ solve their relationship issues through frantic arguing, and Arlo herself sings of momentarily falling in love with a friend on songs like ‘Eugene’. Each track is a vignette in the form of a song. Parks trades in poeticism and metaphors for heartfelt relatable recollections, relying on her memories to provide power to her words.

Whilst her lyricism helps her stand out amongst her peers, there is a lot to be said for Parks’ instrumentals too, which are helped in large part by collaborator Gianluca Buccatelli. Songs such as ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Hope’ stick true to the tried and tested singer-songwriter sounds of confidently plucked acoustic guitars, and simple piano melodies. They are, however, joined by more experimental tracks such as ‘For Violet’, which deals in almost monotonal base synths that match the the low tones of Parks’ singing voice, and ‘Portra 400’, which doubles down on the undercurrent of hip-hop styled percussion on the album, sounding like a deep cut from a crate diggers’ discography. Whilst not going as far as being inventive, there is a refreshing quality to the way the tracks are produced that helps them to float in and out of the mind even when they are no longer playing.

It’s not all that often that you see a solo artist (or even a band for that matter) live up to anticipation they have built off the back of their singles, but Arlo Parks has just about done it. Offering a strong set of songs that firmly put her stamp on the increasingly saturated music landscape, Parks is a cut above the rest when it comes to crafting emotionally resonant songs that pack a decent instrumental punch too. If this album doesn’t propel her further into the spotlight, then it will certainly pave the way for more exciting future work that will do her talent justice.

-Huwen Edwards


Image: The Guardian

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