Within the space of a couple of years, Arlo Parks has gone from uploading home demos to BBC Introducing to being ubiquitously labelled ‘The voice of a generation’. A huge hit album, three Brit Award nominations, a sell-out US tour; the 20-year-old singer-songwriter is going places – and coming to Manchester for her largest headline show to date at Manchester International Festival 2021.
“I’m always making rainbows out of something painful”, Parks sings on the closing track of her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams (2021). Indeed the West London artist has a knack for taking 21st-century anxieties – mental health issues, body image, sexual identity – and holding them up to the light, revealing within them a bittersweet beauty. ‘Black Dog’, the lead single from her debut, deals with a friend’s depression: “I’d lick the grief right off your lips / You do your eyes like Robert Smith” Parks sings in a sweet, airy voice, her flair for imagery on full display as she brings the stark scene to life.
Parks’ empathic lyrics are a huge part of what makes her songs resonate with people – taking on even more power in the context of the widespread isolation that came with the pandemic – but the music more than stands on its own two feet. Commercial without submitting to pop trends, her fresh-out-of-the-box style leans on the lighter side of trip hop, with crunchy grooves and sultry guitars betraying her obsession with Portishead’s Dummy. Melodically she opts for simplicity, writing elegant hooks that never strain too hard, but which stick with you for days.
From the voice to the songwriting to the production, Collapsed in Sunbeams is an understated but massively impressive debut from a young artist with the world at her feet. A month before her 21st birthday, Parks will team up with students from the Royal Northern College of Music to present her largest headline show to date at Manchester Central.