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Arlo Parks explores fraught relationships in “Collapsed in Sunbeams”

In her first studio-length album, the rising British artist lays bare experiences with love.

Twenty-year-old Arlo Parks released her first full length album Jan. 27, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” a beautiful series of reflections on love, hope and hopelessness.

“I wanted to create an avalanche of imagery,” the British singer-songwriter said in an interview with Apple Music. “I’ve always gravitated toward very sensory writers — people like Zadie Smith or Eileen Myles who hone in on those little details.” Parks blends contemporary R&B and dream pop, genres which contribute to her sound’s overall nostalgia and warmth that is both upbeat and layered with imagery.

Parks begins with a spoken poem, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” a prelude to an album glowing with vivid colors and textures. The spoken words create an immediate intimacy that carries throughout the entire album. “Collapsed in sunbeams, stretched out open to beauty however brief or violent,” she says. 

For half of our lives the sun is unseen, yet omnipresent; Parks imagines a world in which love is all encompassing. “I see myself ablaze with joy  ... We're all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions,” she says. There is a fire inside of happiness that hurts but also gives life, and throughout the album she explores the fires within all of us, even herself. 

Parks’s music has a certain nostalgic warmth that, when fused with intense subjects, allows us to feel both sadness and peace. In “Hope,” Parks tells a story of a friend struggling with depression: “Won't call her friends 'cause she's ashamed of being locked into bed.” Parks brings light to the feelings of shame that so often accompany sadness, which paralyze us even more and perpetuate a cycle of loneliness. Halfway through the track, she returns to spoken word, which brings with it a grounding intimacy. 

In “Black Dog,” she sings, “I would do anything to get you out your room / It's so cruel what your mind can do for no reason.” Seeing her friend hurting is incredibly painful when she knows that there is nothing she can do to help.

Throughout the album, Parks explores the many perspectives that exist both within and outside personal relationships. In “Caroline,” Parks looks in on a fraught relationship from the outside, exploring the ways we perceive much of the world without context. “I couldn’t recognize her face / Shards of glass live in this feeling,” she sings. Parks does not know these people, but she can imagine the feelings they experience, suggesting a certain universality that lives within any relationship. 

The importance of perspective in relationships comes up again in “Green Eyes,” where she reflects on her relationship with another woman. “Could not hold my hand in public / Felt their eyes judgin' our love and beggin' for blood,” she sings. Her relationship is inextricably tied with an outside, imposing gaze — one that divides us from our true selves. 

In the tenth track, “Eugene,” Parks’ soft voice floats over the ambient strum of a guitar. “I had a dream, we kissed / And it was all amethyst,” she sings. Here, Parks meditates on her relationship with her best friend, whom she has feelings for, though she feels trapped by a line she cannot cross. “The underpart of your eyes was violet / You hung a cigarette between your purple lips.” An amethyst symbolizes peace, maybe even the divine, whereas the purple of her eyes and lips is colder, tainted. This purple imagery encapsulates a sense of both calm and distress. “I kind of fell half in love and you're to blame.”

“Collapsed in Sunbeams”' comes at a time of ever-increasing isolation and imbalance. But Parks gives us a space to sit in these feelings, while also offering a bit of hope. “I imagined a room full of people at a show who maybe had felt alone at some point in their lives,” Parks stated in her interview for Apple Music. “Singing together as this collective cry so they could look around and realize they’re not alone.”


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