Just like any recent debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams was completed over quarantine. Surely, the circumstances influenced the mood and Arlo Parks confirmed as much in interviews. In a December 2020 Billboard feature, the British singer of Chadian-French-Nigerian lineage shared: “I was mining these deep-rooted, sometimes traumatic places [at a time] when the world was crumbling around me”.
But it’s not like isolation was her only muse. It couldn’t have been, given how she cites Sylvia Plath and Radiohead as inspirations. Upon first listen, she’s obviously a soul yearning for reprieve, and one with a multitude of stories to tell.
Arlo Parks doesn’t readily identify as a poet. She doesn’t have to; the title track’s already enough testament. In the said opening piece, she braces us for the healing journey ahead with bold empathy. “We’re all learning to trust our bodies/Making peace with our own distortions/You shouldn’t be afraid to cry in front of me”, she recites, encouraging us to embrace our vulnerability the way she did. Self-love is obviously the starting point here. Take those heart chakra crystals on the cover as added clue.
The healing theme is further reinforced by two one word-titled tracks. There’s the single Hurt, where she assures “I know you can’t let go of anything at the moment/Just know it would hurt so, won’t hurt so much forever”, thereby acknowledging that we heal at different paces. Then, there’s Hope, where she sings “You’re not alone like you think you are/We all have scars, I know it’s hard.
The rest of the 11 tracks traipse between Parks warbling platitudes of validation and depicting painful experiences. Incidentally, the most gut-wrenching tracks bear people’s names as titles, thereby enhancing the personal touch. Caroline, for one, was inspired by a lovers’ spat once witnessed by Parks in public, while the single “Eugene” cuts even deeper. It’s about falling in love with a best friend who’s already embroiled in an abusive relationship. However, it’s the morose “For Violet” that exudes with the most futility, with the repeated phrase “It feels like nothing’s changing/And I can’t do this/Can’t do this”.
But just as healing can’t be fully attained in one session, the album ends on a bittersweet note. The closing track, “Portra 400”, alludes to photographic film that delivers crisp imagery, therefore making even the dullest subjects look divine. Ergo, pain never disappears, we just learn to deal with it eventually, or as the repeated line encapsulates: “Making rainbows out of something painful”.
For an album inspired by teen angst, this feels like a safe space for all ages – most parts uplifting, other parts distressing, but overall compelling and relatable. That, even with Parks’ sophomore effort looming one month away, makes this piece a captivating breakthrough.