It's hard to recall the last time an artist's debut gained so much simultaneous anticipation and momentum as Arlo Parks and her debut album Collapsed In Sunbeams. With its lead singles beginning their release nearly a year ago, the West London artist's talent has lived up to the hype as her full project is finally released. On it, she paints a defined picture of the pains of her generation through a lens filtered by music's present and past.
Such time has given Parks time to gain fans outside of the critical acclaim, including artists like Florence Welch, Wyclef Jean, and Billie Eilish singing her praises. Nearly every single from the album has debuted with some sort of accolade on BBC Radio 1, never mind her own residency at BBC Music, or her own variety show. Her records are sold out, along with a slew of UK tour dates that, truthfully, could happen or not. Even if they don't, people will still hope for their chance to see the 20-year old whose singing, songwriting and style has captivated many as some of the best of her generation, without dropping any major piece of work.
Parks's appeal comes from her storytelling. It captures the burdens of young adulthood through a melancholy lens unique to her generation, calling upon just about every sonic reference in the book. Some songs call on the early aughts R&B of India.Arie, or 90's musings of Mazzy Star or The Cranberries (somehow, Parks's release schedule has maintained trappings of this era), while others turn to 70's lounge singers, classic rock and traditional jazz. It's Parks's ability to make these all her own in a way that makes us realize, that no, they were already hers from the start—that is so magnetic.
The poetry of Collapsed In Sunbeams starts out well, quite literally. Opening with the album's title track, we hear Parks's spoken word poetry, leaving those of us who have been anticipating this release greatly aware of the poetry of her songwriting to come. It opens up the room, creating a vast space, a framework, for 12 tracks that could each do so on their own, but together, work even harder to so effortlessly carve out this lane for this new artist. Beginning with such poetry places a value on the head of the intimacy experienced in an event setting we've craved so much throughout the past year.
"Hurt," like the albums other hit singles, stays fresh in its new setting. It tees up the summery "Too Good," a track whose easy going facade mirrors the relationship in its subject matter. It's this lyricism that paints a picture with to be played out against a set made of its music, calling on musical eras before she was born, to tell her stories. The funky "Just Go" sees a slight shift from the as-advertised summer glow that the rest of the album maintains. Those continue through the shoe gaze meets bedroom pop "For Violet;" each change a reminder of the seamless connections made between past and present with an ease and ownership that many struggle to execute with nuance. It's like she's telling us our own music history for the first time.
"Portra 400" serves as a finale that tells us we've reached the end of our journey. This element alone is a rare sight in 2021, born in the heyday of concept albums. It's a satisfying reminder of how good it feels to finish an album with a proper denouement. All of this, through lyrics that grace through a matter of heavy subjects, of pain and depression and the like.
Collapsed In Sunbeams solidifies Arlo Parks's talent as the most impressive of 2021 so far, and it's possible it will stay that way.