Arlo Parks, the incredibly talented singer-songwriter, has once again captivated audiences with her soul-stirring music, this time through her respanable new album titled My Soft Machine. With her distinctive blend of introspective lyrics, soothing melodies, and a voice that effortlessly conveys raw emotions, Parks takes listeners on a profound journey of self-reflection and introspection.
Amidst the whirlwind that came in the wake of her 2021 Mercury Prize-winning debut Collapsed in Sunbeams, Arlo Parks took time off—from performing, social media and generally being in the public eye—for her mental health. The reward for that space is My Soft Machine, an album that Parks, 23, has said is about navigating life in her 20s, the “anxiety, the substance abuse of friends … the viscera of being in love for the first time, navigating PTSD and grief and self-sabotage and joy.” And for all those stressful words that come before it, there is the sound of so much joy here.
Jazz-rap drums and the slightest of an Asian riff bring sunniness to romantic “Impurities,” about letting yourself be happy with someone else, even if you’re not picture-perfect. “My chest is buzzing like a bluebird caged/ Love like Juliette Binoche/ You touch my leg to make sure I’m still there/ I radiate like a star, like a star, star, star … When you embrace all my impurities.” Bouncy, dubbing “Blades” is the sound of summertime roller disco. “Dog Rose” is delightful late ‘90s breeziness that underscores how much Parks sounds like the Cardigans’ Nina Persson (whose own sunny songs, including solo works and in A Camp, often contain a darker shadow). “Pegasus,” featuring the ubiquitous Phoebe Bridgers, is dreamy and gauzy but with percussive spikes added to keep things from going too soft: “I span ‘round and screamed, ‘I feel elated when you hold me/ And you got shy and beamed, ‘I think it’s special that you told me,’” sings Parks, who has said the song is about both “experiencing the warmth and lightness of good love for the first time” and how the “presence of real connection can be a little bit terrifying after a long time of not having it.”
On the flipside, coolly skittering “Weightless” probes what it’s like to be more into someone than they are into you—and finds a deeper, distorted voice shadowing Parks’ own, like some interior pain slipping out. The title of “Devotion” echoes the copy of naturalist Mary Oliver’s poetry collection Devotions that Parks discovered in the studio (“I don’t know who left it. A gift from the universe,” she told The Guardian) and which influenced her as much as the flora and fauna, the lightness, of her new home in Los Angeles. But there’s a surprise there, too, as the song shifts from a languid shuffle, bass undertow tugging all the while, to a wall of big, crunchy, grunge guitars. “Purple Phase” kicks back and stretches out, all sultry bass and golden splashes of cymbal, as Parks promises, “I would find all and I’d give it to you” before a sudden burst of thunder threatens the mood.
Arlo Parks | Qobuz InterviewQobuz
Despite the weighty subject matter, Parks’ manages to find moments of pure joy amidst the chaos. My Soft Machine is a testament to Arlo Parks’ growth as an artist, with each track carefully crafted to captivate and resonate deeply with listeners, solidifying her place as a rising star in the music industry.