Arlo Parks is one of the few success stories to come out of BBC Introducing. Having caught the attention of BBC Radio 1 in 2018, she has been on a steady rise since, culminating in the release of her debut album last week. Plenty of hype surrounded this release and with a heartfelt collection of soul-pop stories, Parks has delivered.
She may only be 20 years old but it's clear that she's got a lot on her mind. The twelve songs that comprise the album aren't just pieces of music; they are all windows into the mind and soul of their performer. She discusses pain and loss ('Hurt'), relationship troubles ('Caroline', 'Green Eyes', 'Bluish') and mental health ('Black Dog'), all subjects that are more relatable than ever in the current climate. Though it's icky to say that she's "mature for her age", there can be no denying that there is certainly a sense of emotional charge here that many people - 20yo or not - simply don't seem to have.
But it's not just the basis of the songs; plenty of people have written about these subjects before. Rather, it's the delivery of them, the soft vocals and laid-back instruments combining to create a truly mesmerising sound. Indeed, the style and the performances turn this into a totally different record than a glance at the lyrics would suggest, as the rather downbeat content is turned into an album that feels calm and relaxing. It's the musical equivalent of a soundscape; you could certainly meditate to this album if you wanted to.
One thing that works in the album's favour is that, unusually for a "mainstream" artist, the record has no guest appearances on it, save for some background vocals by American singer-songwriter Clairo on 'Green Eyes'. Though we all love a good collaboration, the lack of a significant guest on this album meant that Parks could focus on herself and her own style, rather than trying to accomodate someone else who may contrast it. Miley Cyrus' Plastic Hearts suffered from this last year, when her collaboration with Dua Lipa sounded far more like one of the latter's songs than Cyrus' own, meaning it sounded out of place on Cyrus' album. Parks didn't have that issue here and it certainly works in her favour.
If you're not the sort to listen to full albums, then get 'Hope', 'Caroline' and 'Black Dog' onto your playlists. Though the whole album is wonderful, this triplet of songs are certainly the highlights, a tremendous three that many artists could only dream of replicating on their first go.
Arlo Parks has burst onto the scene in a big way with this album. A gentle exploration of the mind and soul, it's a reflective record that will resonate with the masses. It's a timely album, with themes that go hand-in-hand with the pandemic, but it also delivers its messages in a way that feels like a creamy hot chocolate or a lounge fire. Parks conveys a warmth on this album, a comfort in sound, a feeling that, despite everything, it's all going to be okay. It won't hurt so much forever.