‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ explores stories of quintessential teenage angst and struggle across it’s 12 tracks
Every few years a young, new artist emerges and is instantly hailed as the “voice of a generation”. In 2015, it was Declan McKenna – who broke through with FIFA protest song ‘Brazil’. Now, it would seem to be 20 year old Arlo Parks – who received widespread critical acclaim with the track ‘Black Dog’: a haunting song about depression released in the midst of quarantine.
Having the tag of ‘voice of a generation’ thrust upon you is hardly an enviable position: the expectation to represent your entire generation in your music is hardly an easy one to bear. Yet, Arlo Parks does so with ease on ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’: the lofi-indie pop/R&B, poetry-inspired album that explores stories of quintessential teenage angst and struggle across it’s 12 tracks (“Tried to shave your stubble but you gushed your cheek”).
Many of the lyrics on this record feel like they were written to be made into thousands of peoples Instagram and Twitter bios (“Wouldn’t it be lovely to feel something for once”, “You gotta trust how you feel inside”). Listening to the album start to finish is a disconcerting, almost deceiving, experience; Park’s luscious, silky vocals disguise what are sombre and sobering truths about coming-of-age in the modern age.
The highlight of ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ is unmistakably ‘Black Dog’ – the song’s themes are hardly novel or new compared to the rest of this album, but it’s presentation of depression and isolation are a step above anything else on this album. The track is far and away the darkest on the album and it’s imagery is almost disturbing and perverse (“I’d lick the grief right off your lips”). Across the course of nearly four minutes, the track offers a harrowing glimpse of depression exacerbated by lockdown and the impact this has on your loved ones (“Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this”, “I know that you are trying / But that’s what makes it terrifying”). On an album where most of the tracks pleasantly blend together and are pushed to the back of your mind, ‘Black Dog’ offers the sort of horrifying, yet entrancing moment that stops you in your tracks.
Elsewhere on the album, Arlo Parks trades the darkness of ‘Black Dog’ in favour of finding a more balanced dichotomy between grief and hope, with Parks singing “I know you can’t let go of anything at the moment / Just know it won’t hurt so much forever” over an irresistibly catchy R&B beat.
Yet, the most powerful moments on ‘Sunbeams’ aren’t where Parks bluntly states the pain of the characters she created or where she offers positive affirmations for a better life. Instead, the album’s highlights come when Parks deploys a greater sense of subtlety; where she chooses to show and not tell. Two of the most powerful moments on this album occur when Parks deploys this approach; first on ‘Hurt’, where she sings of a man whose “fingers find the bottle when he starts to miss his mum” and, secondly on ‘Eugene’, where she describes in pain-staking detail watching a friend prioritise their partner over you (“You play him records I showed you / Read him Sylvia Plath, I thought that that was our thing”).
Ultimately, the smooth, chill sound of ‘Sunbeams’ and the way the tracks transition almost seamlessly from one to another, makes the album almost destined to become the background music in countless cafes and shops, yet look closely and there’s a lot to like about this album – and even a few moments that will stop you in your tracks.
Best Tracks: Black Dog, Hurt, Eugene
Genre: R&B, lo-fi, bedroom-pop