- 26 May 23
Comforting confessions from an ever-observational poet.
Returning with a new album after your debut (2021’s Collapsed in Sunbeams) wins a Mercury Prize must be a challenge, to say the least. For Arlo Parks, My Soft Machine feels as endlessly exposed and unguarded as ever, maintaining the 22-year-old’s gift for narrative, poetic lyricism and marrying it with more bluesy, synth-fuelled soundscapes.
Across 12 tracks, the Londoner encouraged producer Paul Epworth (Adele, Florence + The Machine) to add textures underneath her ethereal, sweet vocal tones. Opening with ‘Bruiseless’, Parks wishes for a return to purity and innocence, “eyes still wide, aged seven and blameless”. The yearning for a blank canvas is beautiful as an introduction. ‘Impurities’ captures the exhilaration of a relationship that embraces their flaws, cleansing them of insecurities.
Funk-driven bass lines thread through the project’s best tracks, with twinkling synths and choral harmonies acting like a supportive friend. “Don’t hide the bruise, I know it’s hard to be alive sometimes.” Having referenced Fontaines D.C. and My Bloody Valentine as influences, the edge is most audible on later parts of epic Deftones-inflected ‘Devotion’. Grungy offering ‘Purple Phase’ pulls back the curtains on mental anguish, while ‘Blades’ explores dancier territory.
Later tapping Phoebe Bridgers on airy backing vocals for ‘Pegasus’, the only feature on the entire project keeps it as personal and raw as a teenager’s diary. ‘I’m Sorry’ injects jazzy neo-soul grooves. “It’s easier to be numb / It’s really just hard to trust anyone,” she sings, describing the struggle to open up. ‘Room (red wing)’ recalls her wings being clipped by someone achingly neglectful, before ‘Ghost’ wraps up the confessional proceedings. “I need love like a body needs sugar.” Intimacy remains the core of her painfully observational artistic focus.
Out now via Transgressive Records.
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