Arlo Parks’s debut “Collapsed in Sunbeams” truly shines

Abby Shewmaker

Refreshing yet familiar, “Collapsed in Sunbeams” marks an impressive debut for Parks. Image courtesy of Transgressive Records.

At just 20-years-old, British singer-songwriter Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho, known professionally as Arlo Parks, is a force to be reckoned with. With her fresh, breezy, yet intimate and touching debut album “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” released Jan. 29, 2021, Parks shows an incredible gift for songwriting and artistry that most musicians her age could only dream of. Parks gained critical acclaim for her 2019 EPs “Super Sad Generation” and “Sophie.” Even though “Collapsed in Sunbeams” marks her official entrance to the music world, many critics have already deemed Parks a voice of her generation. 

“Collapsed in Sunbeams” is an atmospheric indie R&B record with elements of pop thrown into the mix. Many of the songs are deceptively happy –– their melodies appear cheerful at first listen with lyrics that reveal a darker tale. Parks employs this tactic especially well in the song “Hurt,” which discusses themes of working through pain and suffering. She sings “Charlie drank it ’til his eyes burned / Then forgot to eat his lunch / Pain was built into his body / Heart so soft it hurt to beat / Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to feel something for once?” Though these lyrics are heavy on their own, a soulful and danceable beat contrasts it, balancing out the lyrically somber song. These components make “Collapsed in Sunbeams” undeniably enjoyable to listen to.

Setting the bar high, Parks’s EPs “Super Sad Generation” and “Sophie” garnered critical acclaim in 2019. Images courtesy of Transgressive Records.

Parks sets the tone for herself as an artist and for the album with the first track, “Collapsed in Sunbeams;” a spoken-word poem introducing the listener to Parks’s words before her melodies. The delicacy of the composition is nothing short of heart wrenching, as Parks recites in the song, “We’re all learning to trust our bodies, making peace with our own distortions / You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me. I promise.‎” Parks mixes blunt and intricate diction to craft lines that feel like a punch in the gut. This technique is especially evident in the song “Green Eyes,” which was co-written by indie darling Claire Cottrill, known professionally as Clairo. “Green Eyes” is a song about self-acceptance. Parks sings, “I wish that your parents had been kinder to you / They made you hate what you were out of habit.” The first line is a straightforward statement which, when followed by the more subtle details of the situation, makes the song even more devastating.

Where “Collapsed in Sunbeams” falls short, however, is in the variation of sounds and lyrical styles within the album. Each song has a similar sound and feel to it, which shows a cohesive body of work, but also falls into a monotonous pattern by the end. While her lyrics are complex and rich, the music itself is lacking. The production on each of the tracks is approximately the same: a drum kit, gauzy keyboards and some nostalgic cracks of vinyl. This makes for a rather flat listening experience, with little deviation in the mood and feel of the songs throughout. 

At such a young age, Parks is considered to be one of the strongest new songwriters in the game right now. Image courtesy of Transgressive Records.

Parks continues this sound in the deluxe edition of “Collapsed in Sunbeams” includes “lo-fi lounge” versions of these songs, including “Hurt” and “Black Dog,” as well as covers of other beloved indie songs “Bags” by Clairo, “Moon Song” by Phoebe Bridgers and “Ivy” by Frank Ocean. With each of these additions, Parks covers the songs in her own style, matching them to her songs on the album, allowing listeners to experience these sad songs from a new perspective.

Through the themes of despair, joy shines through the cracks in “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” “You’re not alone, you’re not alone,” Parks sings in “Hope.” “You’re not alone like you think you are.”

Listen to “Collapsed in Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks on Spotify here.