Here are our thoughts on the new album from Arlo Parks.
Date published: 26th May 2023
Arlo Parks is back with her second album 'My Soft Machine' after having breakthrough success in 2019 and in 2020 with the release of her debut 'Collapsed In Sunbeams' which picked up the prestigious Mercury Prize award. Often heralded as a poet, we thought we'd take a look to see if she continued her form on her new album.
A quick opening track that goes for a nostalgic kind of sound. Arlo discusses feeling guilt for not being able to protect those she loves. We need to know that her love feeds her cheese for... some reason.
The way that the instrumentals seem to bloom is reminiscent of indie contemporaries such as Clairo. "I radiate like a star" she sings, as the song suitably sparkles in agreement. Its a song all about embracing the things that don't make you a perfect human being and being stronger as a result.
The influence of moving to LA and her relationship with Ashnikko is clearly having a profound effect on this record, as Parks goes for a reinvention, with the sunlight in her songs clearly existing in much higher humidity. "All your baby", she repeats in clear awe of her partner. A roaring guitar riff comes out of nowhere to lift the song to much for frenetic potential, even if Park's thin vocals don't match it.
There's a slightly disappointing ring to Parks' vocal delivery, it is obsessed with being as light and floaty as possible, it seems as though she struggles to add real weight to her voice during what should be emotional moments. This song feels like you've been invited to a sunlit summer party.
A lot was made of Parks' lyricism on her debut but here it isn't connecting in the same way. The chorus to 'Purple Phase' is very forgettable, the track has this air of laid-back charm but is it really anything stronger than background music, where is the inspired line that people are going to remember?
The synths feel as though they could have been a part of the synth-pop explosion that spawned bands such as Passion Pit and MGMT. It is one of the most striking tracks to date, if undermined by Parks' weirdly augmented vocals.
Pegasus (feat Phoebe Bridgers)
A song that instantly evokes a dreamlike state, Arlo describes some of the features that see her so infatuated in someone. Phoebe Bridgers is a guest here and she naturally elevates the track with her beautiful and distinct vocals, her artistry levels above Arlo's.
There's an instantly satisfying blemish of guitar that greets you on this track. An indie pop swooner that is enraptured with feelings of love, it is one of the strongest tracks on the album so far. It is a song that is completely serene in feeling and will surely dominate summer playlists.
There's a lot of minimal drumming throughout this track as Parks emphasises with someone that some things may be hard for them together. There's little that leaves an impression here though on a largely forgettable track.
There are a lot of throwaway lines on this album, as Parks often quickly mentions things in the surrounding scenery but offers very little in terms of moving imagery. It doesn't help that she has largely been in the same tone for the entire album, it feels a little bit like standard tunes you'd expect to hear in the background whilst browsing through clothing rails.
Room (red wings)
"You know I pull up for you even when you let me down", Parks sings as she describes her dedication to someone. With spaced-out drumming and plain piano keys, it treads the meditative line that has been heard throughout 'My Soft Machine'.
The final tracks sounds pretty much the same as most of the songs have done on this album to date, there's very little here to attach yourself to and there are few moments that really make you feel as though the stories she is telling need telling at all.
Overall, 'My Soft Machine' is a little bit of a dud. For an artist who is prized for their lyricism, there is surprisingly very little to attach yourself to and engage with on this album. There are moments where the textures hit just right and you get a sudden snapshot of cool summer breezes and time spent relaxing. However, it eventually all seems to fall into the same meditative pattern that sees Parks have very little reinvention apart from her lean towards contemporary American indie pop.
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