Arlo Parks: "Collapsed in Sunbeams"

Arlo Parks, with her fingers lightly touching her face. Butterflies are flying around her face.

Oleander bushes, dragon fruit and peaches in the wine, a house with red carnations by the windows, twisting violet in eyes, a voice that is pink and white.

These are all moments found throughout Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams. Beautiful phrases or carefully-chosen details that turn Parks’ songs into saturated and luscious stories.

Arlo Parks is a singer-songwriter originally from South London. She grew up there, and as a kid, she spent a lot of time writing short stories and creating fantasy worlds. Later, she started listening to spoken word poetry and reading American poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jim Morrison. Poetry has had a large influence on Parks’ music - that is evident in her writing - and these days, she cites favorites such as Hanif Abdurraqib and Sylvia Plath (she even name drops Plath on “Eugene”). Parks’ also references the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami as a source. Parks says, "The way Murakami writes in that book is how I aspire to write my songs; gritty and sensitive and human."

Parks’ musical inspirations are just interesting and eclectic. She got into King Krule at age 13, which has heavily influenced her sound. Later, she began listening to rap artists like Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, as well as the soft but strong emotional songs of Sufjan Stevens and Julien Baker.

Collapsed in Sunbeams is Arlo Parks' debut record, coming after two EPs that she released in 2019. Collapsed in Sunbeams opens with a spoken word monologue from Parks, where she says this: “Stretched out, open to beauty, however brief or violent.” This line, I believe, can summarize a lot of the songwriting on this record. Collapsed in Sunbeams opens the listener to beauty which, at times, is brief or violent. Sometimes the violence is what we do to others, and sometimes the violence is what we do to ourselves. For example, on “Hurt,” Parks sings, “Charlie melts into his mattress/Watching Twin Peaks on his ones/Then his fingers find his bottle/When he starts to miss his mum.”

Relationships, friendships, and community are the roots of this record. With her writing, Parks often tells the stories of others, especially the grief of others, like Charlie in “Hurt.” Often, Parks is speaking to a friend, trying to help or offer hope. “I would do anything to get you out your room,” she sings on “Black Dog,” speaking to a friend who is consumed by grief. And on “Hope,” we meet Millie, who seems to have lost pleasure in life, and Parks sings, “You’re not alone like you think you are.”

As it progresses, Collapsed in Sunbeams builds into more expansive and catchier songs, which I'd describe as King Krule and R&B influenced indie pop. There are crisp drums, thick bass lines, bright harmonies, and flickering, gently glitchy synth sounds. Parks’ voice is smooth and delicate, surrounded by airy and warm arrangements.

Collapsed in Sunbeams is also oh-so-sapphic. “Green Eyes,” for example, is a very sensory song, which begins by building a scene with deliberate details like “dragon fruit and peaches in the wine” and “Painting Kaia’s bedroom, I think she wanted green.” These details, however, are small amidst the bigger story: Parks’ lover is not ready to come out, and Parks’ response is loving and forgiving. “I could never blame you, darling,” she sings.

“Eugene,” another sapphic song, has perhaps the most vivid hues of the record: “I had a dream, we kissed/ And it was all amethyst/ The underpart of your eyes was violet/ You hung a cigarette between your purple lips.” It’s a song full of desire as we realize that Parks is in love with someone who is dating somebody else named Eugene. “You read him Sylvia Plath, I thought that was our thing/ You know I like you like that/ I hate that son of a bitch.”

We see more flickers of violence on songs like “Bluish” and “For Violet.” “You held me so hard I went bluish,” speaks Parks on “Bluish,” a poetic depiction of a suffocating and hurtful relationship, whereas “For Violet” depicts a fraught home life of a friend, with Parks trying to talk them down.

On the last track of the album, “Porta 400,” Parks offers this line: “Making rainbows out of something painful.” And it seems that is just what she’s done with this debut record. She’s taken pain, whether it be her own, the pain of a friend, or even the pain of a stranger, and made it into a rainbow.

Listen to Collapsed in Sunbeams below.