Arlo Parks’ music was getting mentions on radio stations from around 2019, the excited buzz that followed another up-and-coming artist. Everyone was singing her praises and I was getting flooded with recommendations from friends and family. ‘Cool, I’ll check her out later’ is my usual response, it translates to thanks but realistically I am never going to do that and soon it will be lost in the abyss of names and tasks in my brain.
It wasn’t until uni that I heard ‘Eugene’ and ‘Hope’ from her 2021 album Collapsed In Sunbeams. For weeks I would play ‘Eugene’ on repeat, addicted to the twisted melancholy of unrequited love it elicited. Sombre and reflective instrumentals cling onto a narrative of Arlo’s impossible yet all consuming love for her best friend. The song, which is essentially an apology note for her uncontainable feelings, is crushing from the start. She captures a visceral stomach-churning sickness created by the pain of unreciprocated feelings.
“Seein’ you with him burns / I feel it deep in my throat / You put your hands in his shirt / You play him records I showed you.”
This was my first taste of the way she masterfully conveys emotional intensity like no other artist I have heard. Her music overflows, mixing with the hot metal of my speaker and following me around my day. It reads like poetry, and a lot of her songs are, in fact, based off or around poems. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to her first album. She is a true story teller. Take ‘Caroline’, which offers two perspectives on a break up as viewed by the narrator. Beneath the calm and constant guitar there’s a sense of panic and urgency – the overwhelming need to escape the confines of their love-turned-resentment:
“Ripped the hem of her skirt as she ran/ Panicking and weaving through the clouds on Oxford Street/ Watched his world dissolve in his hands/ Tried to roll a blem then put his head between his knees.”
It flows effortlessly to a singular point in time, underpinned by the inevitability of defeat.
I soon moved beyond the album and listened to everything, all the singles and covers. For weeks, Arlo Parks became the soundtrack of my life, as I gazed out the window of the 142, trying to find beauty in the mix of grey and rain. She has the ability to slice open any moment and find it dripping in colour and senses. ‘Green Eyes’ is a capsule for innocent summer love: “Dragon fruit and peaches in the wine/ Kissin’ circles underneath your eyes” balanced out by ‘George’ where delicate imagery riddled with horror forebodes a friend that means trouble: “But you leave a bit of blood in every room/ Purple roses underneath your shoes/ When I see the petals by the pool, I know that you’ve been here.” She builds a world of texture and smells that you can dive into like your favourite book.
Away from the art and chaos of the verses, the choruses are characterised by simple up-beat phrases, reminiscent of comforting R&B melodies. Most songs are bound by affirmations of strength: “I know you can’t let go / Of anything at the moment /Just know it won’t hurt so / Won’t hurt so much forever”, “I loved you to death/ And now I don’t really care/ ‘Cause you’re running round over there”, “Why don’t you just go?” They are all equally shattering in their endurance and hopefulness, offering a change in pace and perspective which defines her style.
It would be wrong to suggest her work is all the same vibe however. The narcotic clouds of ‘Portra 400′, ‘Paperbacks’ and my current favourite, ‘second-guessing’, outrun the grounded worlds of Arlo Parks’ other songs. They stand out for their other-worldly sound, spaced out and slow, with no sense of time and space. ‘second-guessing’ follows the euphoric rush of growing up behind a façade of control – ostensibly reaching for the stars but plagued by anxieties that denote a spoiled innocence. ‘Paperbacks’ offers a gentle hedonism – daydreams floating in sex, friends, and booze.
‘Softly’ is probably the most vulnerable song about falling for someone – living on the cusp of love and trust. Again these meditations are never fully simplistic but peppered with feelings of apprehension. This is the reality for most students away from the glossed over singles of unadulterated ecstasy that are pushed so heavily in the charts. With no pretentions of glamour or Hollywood, her authenticity stands raw and bold.
Soft beats are overcast with narrations on society as a young person. Her discography tracks friends with suicidal ideations, to partying and drug use, friendship, and pondering the beauty of life. Parks shows the romance and heartbreak inherent in growing up. For all of those that live in the in between – a place between childhood and adulthood yet miles from both. This is one for every student to listen to; romanticise that morning cigarette or fragmenting situation-ship as part of a more beautiful yet painful project of youth.
You definitely need her on your radar, and I am assuming she probably is, because you’re reading this article. Of course she found her way into my 2022 Spotify Wrapped. Don’t worry I resisted the urge to repost it on my story, as people shamelessly showed off their music which they deemed to be ‘good taste’, I saved it for an article instead which I have found a far more effective and pretentious way of showing off. As one of my top artists, I eagerly looked for her message to fans as she beamed from my iPhone with bright eyes and a fresh red buzz. She hinted at something very exciting happening next year so stay tuned for more, and get listening!