WHY I RATE: Arlo Parks

Selected by: Robert Kazandjian

Name: Arlo Parks

Where She’s From: Hammersmith, West London

Genre: Pop-Soul

File Next To: Ego Ella May, Joy Crookes, Lianne La Havas

When She Started: 2018

Sounds Like: “I would say that my sound is quite fluid. It’s characterised by being quite sensitive and introspective, and I guess it comes under the umbrella of pop music. But genre-wise, I think it’s cool that you can blend all these different elements of all these different kinds of music.”

First Music That Inspired Her: “That was probably ‘Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay’ by Otis Redding. There was something about his voice that really moved me. That was the first time that I was really moved by a piece of music and the warmth of the instrumentation as well. That song inspired me to start making music.”

20-year-old singer-songwriter and poet Arlo Parks is one of those rare, transcendent artists. Genre melts away into irrelevance when you sit down and take in her deeply personal, emotive music. It’s a soulful, warm sound driven by the human experience, with an intimately detailed, journal-like quality that the West Londoner has been honing since her mid-teens. “I remember writing this song called ‘Dimitri Boy’ when I was 15 or 16,” she tells TRENCH. “It was about an argument with a friend. I’d just read some poetry—I think it was Audre Lorde or Gary Snyder—and I’d made this beat on GarageBand, which felt close to what I wanted it to sound like and I thought, ‘Why not record?’” Arlo found the experience cathartic and comforting. “It started off as something that was very much a private exercise; I didn't share it with anybody for a long while. It was very much something that I did to work through personal, difficult feelings and situations.”

In November 2018, Arlo dropped her first official single, “Cola”, which was a beautifully rendered portrait of a relationship ruined by betrayal, with her gentle vocals floating serenely above a sparse arrangement of strings and drums. The track introduced listeners to Arlo’s understated excellence, and has been streamed over 15 million times on Spotify. Two accomplished, concise EPs followed in 2019: Super Sad Generation and Sophie. The former’s titular track paints the minutiae of teenage angst with a fine brush: “When did we get so skinny? / Start doing ketamine on weekends / Getting wasted at the station / And trying to keep our friends from death.”

Arlo’s broad sonic palette blends contemporary influences like King Krule, the late, great MF DOOM and Portishead with the music of her parents. “There were lots of different types of music playing at home growing up,” she says. “Lots of soul, like Otis Redding and Minnie Riperton. There was Jazz, like Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Chet Baker. There was lots of French music from my mum, too: Françoise Hardy and Charles Aznavour. I was blessed to have a melting pot of influences.”

That melting pot of influences informs what we’ve heard so far of Arlo Parks’ highly-anticipated debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams. The project’s dreamy soundscapes draw on everything from folk to neo-soul, elevated by her quietly powerful delivery and vivid, unflinchingly honest storytelling. She explores themes of depression, grief, sexuality and unrequited love without slipping into melancholy, though. The message of standout cut “Hurt” is one of hope in the face of terrible loss, when so many of us are really going through it: “I know you can’t let go, of anything at the moment / Just know it won’t hurt so, won’t hurt so much forever.”

Arlo Parks racked up some very notable achievements in 2020. She was named BBC’s Introducing Artist of the Year, became an ambassador for mental health charity CALM and got an incredible Michelle Obama co-sign. But recording Collapsed In Sunbeams is the highlight of her career so far. “Writing an album in a pandemic, I know that’s boring, but having most of the album written in two weeks in an Airbnb in East London and being able to find some inspiration in a time that was very stagnant and scary, I’m definitely proud of that one.”

TRENCH Highlight...

Posted on February 03, 2021