By Julia Landi
Assistant Music Director at WTSR
“Collapsed in Sunbeams,” the debut album by 20-year-old English poet, Arlo Parks, showcases the artist’s profound wisdom despite her young age in a comforting landscape through a mix of pop and hip-hop music.
The music staff at The College of New Jersey’s radio station, WTSR, voted this album for their “Album of the Week.” For “Album of the Week,” the music staff suggests newly-released albums (from the past month), and lets the organization vote on the album of the week. The week of Feb. 28, the other nominees were “OK Human” by Weezer, “Super Monster” by Claud, and “Ignorance” by The Weather Station, but “Collapsed in Sunbeams” stood out for Parks’ smart lyricism and the compelling instrumentals throughout.
One staff member, Zach Rich, a junior computer science major, gave his reasons for voting Parks’ album as “Album of the Week.”
“Her songwriting style is very intricate and elaborate that’s well balanced with (a) simpler presentation,” Rich said. “The lyrics are easily understandable at a surface level and can be analyzed for deeper meaning at the same time, something that’s really rare in songwriting.”
Though she’s been releasing singles since 2018, Parks has gained more attention from other critically acclaimed artists in the past year, such as when she performed a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” with Grammy-nominee Phoebe Bridgers.
Her singles sparked interest, with the lyrics being particularly compelling considering Parks’ young age. In the song “Black Dog,” the power of the lyrics comes from their simplicity such as the lines “At least I know that you are trying/But that’s what makes it terrifying,” as Parks details a narrator helping a loved one struggling with mental illness.
The song “Black Dog” opens with a simple drumbeat and some down strokes on guitar. Soon, a recurring piano riff comes up that opens up the landscape of the song and Parks’ vocals come in to detail the narrator’s relationship with this person who is struggling. Her voice feels earnest as she tries to get this person she loves to do simple tasks like “Just take your medicine and eat some food/ I would do anything to get you out your room.”
The image of the “Black Dog” represents depression as Parks’ tells her loved one that she would “take a jump off the fire escape/to make the black dog go away.” The song certainly tugs at the reader’s heart strings as it details the familiar story of trying to help someone struggling with a weight you can never fully understand.
Despite the sadness of the situation, Parks’ voice feels comforting. While some of the lines may suggest hopeless regarding the person’s situation, such as “it’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason,” the fact that Parks’ voice remains steady and strong as the track progresses offers the reader some kind of hope — it showcases the beauty of human compassion even in difficult times.
“Eugene” is Parks’ most popular single from the album. It has the similar bare-bones instrumentals to the rest of the album to open the track, but it feels like the atmosphere grows as Parks details the story of unrequited love for a girlfriend in a relationship with a man named Eugene. This is another song where Parks’ details a familiar, and painful, event as she feels her romantic feelings for her friend are affecting their friendship. She tells the friend, “Hey, I know I’ve been a little bit off but that’s my mistake/ I kind of fell half in love and you’re to blame.” Her lyricism is simple but astute, capturing the little moments of pain that come from unrequited love.
Parks’ voice is smooth and confident, which creates a cohesive feel for her album “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” as the songs blend into each other. Each song is immersive in its own way, such as the song “Hope,” in which Parks comforts someone who feels isolated in their struggles with the refrain “You’re not alone like you think you are.”
The verses are more bare-bones with just Parks’ sweet vocals accompanied by piano chords. A bass and drum beat keeps the song moving and, when the listener arrives at the chorus, the instrumentals pick up with guitar and Parks’ vocals feel even more powerful. While the song doesn’t feel revolutionary, Parks’ skill as a lyricist combined with the comforting instrumentals makes the track stick with the reader. It feels like Parks is able to give the reader the confidence she expresses in her voice through the song.
While the album can feel a bit monotonous instrumentally, each song has a unique story that deals with themes such as isolation, depression and hope. Each story is captivating in a unique way, which invites the listener to actively listen to the album rather than passively listening with it on in the background.
The way Parks can put together forty minutes worth of emotionally compelling music as her debut makes her a unique and promising talent in the music industry. At WTSR, we are so excited to have her new album in rotation and look forward to her future works.