Up-and-comer in the R&B music scene Arlo Parks debuted her first album Collapsed in Sunbeams last week, setting the tone for a promising career in the music industry. While her debut was clearly elementary, the 20-year-old’s talent shone through a poignant collection of songs, setting the stage for a future of melodic growth and lyrical exploration.
Gen Z artists have been changing the feel of music in recent years, and Parks’ debut proved adamant in that effort. Her album, filled with jazzy blues and hints of techno pop, creates an interesting combination of R&B and indie music genres. Her exploration with musical genre fares through her collaboration with well-known artists like Phoebe Bridgers but also through the playfulness and variety of songs throughout her album. Parks introduces a lo-fi feel to her album, all while maintaining the complexity and depth that R&B lyrics hold.
Parks opens her album with a poem, and by doing so, immediately sets herself apart from many of her contemporaries. Unlike other R&B artists, like 6LACK or Ella Mai, who choose more casual spoken interludes, Parks opts for a more formal introduction to her work, an album she wanted to approach “almost as if [she] were writing a book or a collection of short stories.” This sentiment is reflected well throughout her album, as she takes on some of the most pressing issues many young people face today: mental health, sexuality, and coming-of-age.
Arguably the best song on the album, “Black Dog” serves as a remarkable ode to mental health, a topic many younger listeners can relate to. Opening with the lyric, “I’d lick the grief right off your lips,” Parks implores her listeners to feel the intensity of her message. The song features experiences from another person's life shown through Parks' eyes. She paints their experience exceptionally well, with added commentary like, “It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason.” The song carries a sense of deep melancholy, expressed with a sorrowful melody and soft-spoken lyrics. It leaves the listener to reflect on their own lives—and perhaps even through Parks’ eyes.
Songs like “For Violet” and “Bluish” follow in the same sorrowful tone. Both encapsulate the feeling of leftover teenage angst as one learns to let go of their adolescence. “Eugene” interjects the middle of the album with a cheerful tune and message, serving as a tipping point where she moves away from slow sounds to more upbeat ones.
While the album had a few immensely strong songs, the discography as an entirety does not blend well overall. The depth of her album, while expressed well lyrically, does not come through as well through the beats and melodies of her songs. With stark and almost jolting changes from slower to faster songs, the listener experiences a sort of musical whiplash when listening to the album from start to end. The order of the songs does not piece together well. Each song either blends too blandly with the next, leading to a rather monotonous feel to the album as a whole, or contrastingly, jumping too quickly to a new tempo, creating a confusing transition and rattling composition.
The album’s takeaway was rather unclear, leaving the listener with no real impression of Parks’ talent. Parks sings, “Making rainbows out of something painful,” in “Portra 400” to show that her music was made out of painful experiences. However, much like a rainbow, this album gives off a 10-second long excitement that is later easily forgotten.
Ultimately, Parks’ distinct voice and take on the ‘new R&B’ will surely allow her to make a name for herself. Looking to the future, Parks will be well-served to work toward meshing her intense lyrics with better fitting instrumentals and melodies. By focusing on improving her song compositions, Parks will undoubtedly become a household name.
Overall rating of Collapsed In Sunbeams by Arlo Parks: 7/10.