If you’ve ever dug up an old diary and leafed through its pages, it’s very likely you’ve stumbled upon some melodramatic vignettes of adolescence, both cringe-worthy to read yet strangely impossible to tear your eyes away from. There’s a certain appeal to re-living the most intimate moments of your life through the gel-penned scribbles of your younger self. London indie-pop singer Arlo Park’s newest project, Collapsed in Sunbeams, sounds like a cinematic reimagining of that high school diary — sans the pubescent theatrics.
The 20-year-old’s debut album, following a steady release of singles and collaborations with the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and Clairo, takes on both the gritty and lighthearted experiences that come with navigating friendship and love as a young adult. Across 12 tracks, seven lo-fi covers and one poem track, Parks paints a picture book of solace and isolation. In an interview with The New York Times, she shared, “I find it harder to write about joy because it’s simpler. There’s more complexity in sad things. But I’m a defiant optimist.” On Collapsed in Sunbeams, these quiet moments of joy and sadness intermix to create a deeply personal bedroom pop album perfect for the new year.
Parks first broke out of anonymity with her 2018 single “Cola.” The stripped-back track, crafted in under 20 minutes by Parks and producer Luca Buccellati, chronicles the breaking point of a relationship filled with infidelity, earning over 15 million streams on Spotify since its initial release. Parks solidified her knack for storytelling and vivid imagery on “Cola,” a skill she’s maintained and grown on Collapsed in Sunbeams.
Citing a line from Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” as inspiration for the album title, Parks has found her vision in a wide variety of sources, including Studio Ghibli films, Frank Ocean and her own journal from when she was 13. It’s easy to see these connections on the project, with its kaleidoscope of visuals and intimate pockets of teenagehood.
On the song “Black Dog,” Parks approaches depression and the loss of a friend by suicide with emotive sincerity. She sings, “Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit / I would do anything to get you out your room / Just take your medicine and eat some food / It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason.” Set against plucky guitar and a simple beat, Parks’s gentle vocals soften the song’s tragic words.
Airy and glowing like the sunbeams of the album’s namesake, Parks’s voice carries the listener to another trial on the dreamy pop track “Green Eyes.” Here, she details the loss of a relationship plagued by unaccepting parents and sheltered sexuality, with songwriting credits and background vocals from Clairo.
Parks, who is openly bisexual, sings, “Of course I know why we lasted two months / Could not hold my hand in public / Felt their eyes judging our love and baying for blood.” Its breezy and warm instrumentation are meant to “uplift and comfort those going through hard times,” according to Parks. Her ability to find the sunny undersides of even the darkest struggles shines, a key element that prevents Collapsed in Sunbeams from feeling too heavy to enjoy.
The sleepy and beautiful “Eugene,” which found its way onto one of Michelle Obama’s summer playlists last August, narrates the sting of falling for your best friend who falls for someone else. Parks reflects, “Hey, I know I’ve been a little bit off and that’s my mistake / I kind of fell half in love and you’re to blame / I guess I just forgot that we’ve been mates since day.”
It’s both a highly personal narrative and yet something anyone can find resonant. Maybe we’ve all had our own version of “Eugene,” someone who disrupts something good and leaves us feeling detached from the familiar. With tucked in spoken-word pieces like the titular “Collapsed in Sunbeams” and “Black Dog Poem,” Parks further immerses the listener in her stories and provides a kind of intimacy and specificity sometimes missing from mainstream bedroom pop.
Parks has grown since “Cola,” still serving snapshots of inner turmoil and love but with matured sound and production. The tracks “Too Good” and “Portra 400,” which Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence + the Machine) produced, evoking the coming-of-age, end credit vibrance Parks says she dreamed of in an interview with Apple Music.
She’s no longer a 17-year-old making beats in a nameless London flat, but Parks’s music today is no less disarmingly sincere. Collapsed in Sunbeams is a melancholic journey through youth, promising a bright future of storytelling and vulnerability for Parks.
Daily Arts Writer Nora Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.