Arlo Parks, born Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, is a 20-year-old British singer-songwriter whose debut record, Collapsed in Sunbeams just dropped last Friday.
Parks gained notoriety after her single “Cola” came out in 2018. Since then, Parks has worked with indie favorites like Clairo and Phoebe Bridgers. She was also slated to open for Hayley Williams on her solo tour which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her music was included on Micaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” and even former First Lady Michelle Obama included “Eugene” on her playlist published over the summer.
The album gets its name from Zadie’s Smith “On Beauty” and many of the songs reflect a diary Parks revisited during the pandemic that she wrote when she was 13. Calling the album “a time capsule of adolescence” in a recent interview with the New York Times, it’s clear to listeners that Parks is talking about something or someone, her feelings are raw and fresh from experience.
What makes her sound unique is that she doesn’t hide behind a layer of vagueness that many of her genre counterparts do. I believe her age contributes to her honesty, as she’s only 20 years-old and living out all the prominent feelings the album covers — grief, friendship, anxiety, depression — in her day-to-day life. Not to say older artists can’t combat these topics or experience these feelings, too. But as a fellow young adult, we haven’t quite had the chance to process our current realities all that much. The dauntingness of this new reality is still new, the weight of those feelings is still settling in.
We can see this on “For Violet,” where Parks documents the loss of innocence that comes with diving into your adult years.
Parks has been cited talkng about how this entire album is about perserving your own sanity, while also giving yourself to others. A challenge that becomes prominent in your late teeange years when you begin to feel more independent.
“Black Dog,” the first single from the album pays homage to a friend Parks recently lost from suicide. She admits that writing this song was a way of grieving. Many of the songs on Collapsed in Sunbeams take on really dark topics but she never once lets that overshadow the true essence of her work.
It’s an album decorated with subtle optimism, it reminds us all to battle the ways we feel because there’s a chance for a better tomorrow. The idea of a collective spirit is crucial to Parks' work because her music can make you feel seen. At least Arlo Parks, and her 3,000,000+ listeners on Spotify might also be going through it alongside me, and in a time where human connection is being tested, this feeling is almost like a breath of fresh air.
She also uses a technique many songwriters use to create more personal conversation. Parks uses a series of names, like Charlie, Eugene, Caroline, throughout the album, establishing an intimate aspect of storytelling that shines through all 12 tracks.
On “Hurt,” Parks sings about a character by the name of Charlie. She sings, “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.” She recognizes the pain, and then talks back to those feelings.
Jon Pareles, a New York Times music critic, puts it best. She offers “solace without illusion.” In comparison to someone like Bridgers, Parks’ music does not solely thrive off of gloom and doom. And for the record, I love Phoebe and play her music plenty. But, there’s a time and place to stream “Savior Complex'' or “I Know the End,” and when you wake up feeling semi-hopeful, Collapsed in Sunbeams proves to be your best bet.