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Arlo Parks Collapsed in Sunbeams

Breakthrough artists' skilled, lyrical polaroids are outshone by repetitive melodies and a lazy formula.

Released: 29 January 2021
Collapsed in Sunbeams

Breakout singles ‘Cola’ and ‘Black Dog’ were our first exposure to the 20-year-old Londoner’s trip-hop style, and were met with unanimous praise and the kind of idolatry bolstered by youth (think Billie Eilish or Lorde adoration). Her debut album certainly has a doomy, teenage edge. Her style, voice and subject matter are already fully-developed, pristine. Once you get past the natural jealousy, it’s clear that ‘Black Dog’ spells out a mission statement for Arlo going forward: “I’d lick the grief off of your lips / You do your eyes like Robert Smith.” This is its opening line, encapsulating hope and depression, battling it out in twin tears. Collapsed in Sunbeams almost lives up to the hype that a track like that promises but her musical arsenal is lacking and repetitive. Rainy bass chords and ever-downtempo bedroom-pop stop Sunbeams from quite entering the prodigal company of Eilish, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith.

Her poetic spark is undeniable: she knows when to dial back the metaphors and let the simplest images do the heavy lifting. It’s similar to Will Toledo and Thom Yorke’s (the latter gets namedropped) eye for minutiae: Charlie is drinking until his eyes are blurring the sight of Twin Peaks on his TV in ‘Hurt’; Caroline’s messy breakup at a bus stop is dramatised with splashing coffee and flushed cheeks in the vivid ‘Caroline’.

But Arlo seems content dusting off the same formula for every track; rusty drumkits and stories about adolescent aimlessness add up to a record that feels aimless. No, it’s never unpleasant but sunny platitudes like: “You’re not alone like you think you are! I know it’s hard! We all have scars!” eventually start to feel like Rupi Kaur truisms rather than fleshed-out verse. Namedropping Yorke indicates that Arlo knows whereabouts Sunbeams fits on your record shelf but artists like him or Eilish don’t offer easy solutions in the form of catchy choruses. The pain lies in the ellipsis.