Arlo Parks introduces herself as a Gen Z visionary

British singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks released her debut album ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ last month. The record is packed with catchy songs like ‘Hurt’ and ‘Just Go.’ // Photo courtesy of Transgressive Records

Our Take: 5 Stars

Arlo Parks is the voice of a generation. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter-poet got her start two years ago when a BBC Radio 1 DJ noticed her demos. Since then she has released a few EPs and on Jan. 29 dropped her debut album, “Collapsed In Sunbeams.” The R&B and bedroom-pop record is refreshing and raw in a way only an artist who grew up on social media can be.

The album’s opening track “Collapsed In Sunbeams” is not really a song but a 55 second long poem read by Parks herself; her lyrical and slightly hoarse West-London accented voice is almost uncomfortably intimate. The effect of the track is hypnotic and its sadness-laced words sound like the intro to an A24 coming of age film.

The spoken-word poem sets the intimate tone of the album perfectly, ending with the lines “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. I promise.”

Next up, “Hurt” is an upbeat and triumphant song that is highly danceable despite the downhearted tone of the lyrics. The simple but catchy music allows Parks’ voice to really shine here, showcasing its vulnerable, bare quality. One of her wordiest songs, “Hurt” finds its groove in repetition, with only a few distinct lines. Before the last chorus there is a spoken-word verse that once again highlights Parks’ poetic prowess and adds gravity to an effortless track.

Parks said her intentions with “Collapsed In Sunbeams” was “to create an avalanche of imagery.” And boy did she succeed — nearly every song invokes a specific visual aesthetic or brings up old memories.

The best example of this is “Green Eyes.” The perfect love child of Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean, this track is funky but grounded in its bass. Lyrics like “Paintin’ Kaia’s / bedroom, think she wanted green / But the weather puts you on my mind / Dragonfruit and peaches in the wine / Kissin’ circles underneath your eyes,” create a moodboard in the listener’s mind. “Green Eyes” ruminates on Parks’ high school experience and her coming to terms with her bisexuality.

Modern breakup song “Just Go” is a mentally healthy alternative to the hundreds of revenge-ridden heartbroken songs of the 2000s.

Once again, a catchy and repetitive tune with simple musical backing, “Just Go” has a simple lyrical message about releasing toxic people and energy — a much needed change of pace from most pop songs.

While some may criticize Parks’ album as being rote coffee-shop singer-songwriter cliches, it’s the lyrics that mark “Collapsed In Sunbeams” as an album for the TikTok generation. The track that illustrates this most clearly is “Eugene,” one of the singles. The bedroom-pop song’s melody is unremarkable but the high-school nostalgia it inspires it is inescapable. Lyrics like “We’ve been best buds since thirteen /I hold your head back when you’re too lean / I hold the Taco Bell and you cried over Eugene” are not inherently specific but somehow evoke feelings of familiarity and deja vu.

A trendy TikTok dance routine to this song can not be that far over the horizon, but Parks’ work is not just for sentimental Gen-Zers; Michelle Obama added “Eugene” to her public “Black Girl Magic” playlist.

Especially for a debut album, “Collapsed In Sunbeams” is sublime — make sure to give it a listen. Arlo Parks has introduced herself as a major defining voice of the 2020s.