In her new EP “Sophie,” 19-year-old singer Arlo Parks quietly bares her soul to anyone who will listen. With simple, groovy beats and to-the-point, biting lyrics, Parks meditates on a youth defined by deeply personal experiences of love that are both turbulent and perplexing.
Hailing from Hammersmith, London, the self-described poet is a relative newcomer to the music scene. Describing herself as just a girl who spent her schooldays “listening to too much emo music” and “crushing on some girl in her Spanish class,” Parks possesses a flair for vividly depicting complex emotions through transparent snapshots of her teenage angst.
“Sophie” is a compilation of her previous work, showcasing four of her singles released earlier this year, with the additional end track “Paperbacks.” Parks’ bedroom pop aesthetic effortlessly infuses rhythm and blues elements for a unique blend of genres, as seen in both “Paperbacks” and “Second Guessing.”
Serving as the opening track, “Second Guessing” exudes a dreamy, atmospheric sound that is further mellowed by Parks’ milky voice that creates the environment of the entire track listing. Although the created ambience seems unobtrusive, the words sung are anything but as she tells of her emotional “burning.”
“Bleeding out a velvet couch,” Parks sings, “They’re kinda worried about me.” Direct and unrelenting statements comprise her confessional musings on “Second Guessing.” She reflects on both her past and present, admitting, “Yeah, in my stupid way, I wish I was five / without the cigarettes and quiet goodbyes.” The juxtaposition of the groovy ambience and bitter words only serves to highlight the cynicism that colors her views of the world.
Despite her youthful 19 years, she explains her tiredness with life has become numbing, singing, “I know you hate it when I say I wanna die.” Throughout the song and even the entire collection, Parks appears nonchalant and worn out in her straight-forward delivery of troubling words, but rather than making the song lackluster, it works in her favor and leaves a haunting impression.
Once she has drawn us in, “George” and “Sophie” continue to develop her narrative. The two songs parallel each other in their subject matter as they describe two different kinds of people the singer has encountered in her life. There are the “Georges” who “leave a little blood in every room,” the boys that stay on her mind. Parks declares a bit scornfully, “This place still stinks of you, I swear.”
Both “George” and “Sophie,” which deal with the spiteful girls in her life, incorporate components of funk, working within her defined minimalistic sound. The undecorated quality of Parks’ lo-fi-esque music heightens its intimacy — not only are her songs catchy and groovy, they are outpourings she shares unabashedly.
In “Angel’s Song,” the artist exhibits a deeper emotional conflict. Here, Parks is at her most vulnerable, her affection for the “you” who wants to “jump off the roof” laid bare. Her voice is a balm, softly whispering an honest, “Well, f–k ‘em, ‘cause you turned out so kind and so cute.” Parks’ honesty is so plain her words are potent and piercing because of the simplicity of her language.
Although the EP presents a cohesive narrative across its tracks, they all express a very similar and specific mood, and the unchanging musical tones are sometimes too monotonous; the first and last tracks could be played back-to-back and sound like one song. Rather than feeling like a dynamic collection of songs that offers diverse emotions, the majority of the songs feel like retellings of the same story and sound.
Nevertheless, Parks draws on her London roots masterfully in addition to her endearing accent, highlighting her individuality. On the first track, while “on the way back from therapy,” an image of her “eating Parma Violets” grounds the song in the unique disillusionment and instability of growing up in the city. In “Sophie,” when she sings “I talk to girls that bring their switchblades to the function,” she refers to the deadly epidemic of knife stabbings that can and do happen virtually anywhere in London. Parks highlights her role as a British artist and shares images of British life that are frequently ignored in mass media.
Parks kicks off her “Super Sad Generation” Tour next year, performing at intimate venues in Great Britain and Europe. Although at times too unvarying in its message and sound, Arlo Parks’ EP boldly sends messages of love and hate that appeal to those who, as she does, think deeply and sensitively about relationships. “Sophie” consoles, offering both an outlet for and a space of reflection for the hopelessly hopeful and hurt.