Arlo Parks has cemented herself as a talented and introspective singer-songwriter with her sophomore release “My Soft Machine.”
Just 22 years old, Parks has already garnered significant critical acclaim and a deeply devoted fanbase. Her initial 2021 release, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” received nominations at the 2021 Brit Awards and won the 2021 Mercury Prize for Best Album, which recognizes the best music and artists in the U.K. The album, produced during quarantine, spoke to Gen Zers forced to come of age amid the pandemic.
“My Soft Machine” serves as an elevated continuation of “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” further delving into themes of love, identity, self-expression and trauma. The 12-song album was released May 26 and includes a feature from indie sensation Phoebe Bridgers.
The record opens with “Bruiseless,” a spoken-word piece lamenting the struggles that come with aging and increased awareness of the world. The piece is deeply personal, filled with emotions of shame, longing and regret.
“I just wish that I was seven and blameless,” Parks sings. “I just wish that my eyes were still wide.”
The second track, “Impurities,” is more upbeat and seemingly expands upon the themes addressed in “Bruiseless.” The song is about the power love has to make someone comfortable and secure with themselves and within relationships.
“When you embrace all my impurities, and I feel clean again,” Parks sings. “Don’t hide the bruise when you know I’m watching.”
“Devotion” is a bona fide love song with lyrics that could read as stand-alone poetry, which makes them all the more powerful when put to music. The song also leans into a punk sound, with heavy guitar and drums that somewhat stray away from Parks’ typical light and iridescent tones.
The next track, “Blades,” is a more regretful song set to subtle and upbeat synths, yet another evolution in Parks’ style. The song reminisces on a previous relationship and examines missing time spent together while again displaying a strong piece of writing.
“And you laugh the same, hand on your mouth ‘cause you hate your teeth,” Parks sings. “And I love your teeth, and I’m scared to speak.”
“Purple Phase” feels the most similar to Parks’ previous work with its dreamy and ethereal tone. However, it feels a bit undercooked compared to the tracks on “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” and its slow pace seems to drag.
“Weightless” is currently the most popular song on the record, and it’s easy to see why. The song is about a one-sided relationship, where Parks is “starved of affection” but feels helpless and unable to find the strength to leave the relationship. “Weightless” is catchy and relatable, making it one of the best tracks on the album.
“I don’t wanna wait for you, but I need you, so I won’t go,” Parks sings in the chorus.
Parks’ collaboration with Bridgers, “Pegasus,” is understated yet beautiful; even so, fans of Bridgers may be disappointed by what feels like a small feature. Their vocals blend together smoothly, but it can be difficult to distinguish Bridgers’ role in the track.
“Dog Rose” is a nice song, but ultimately feels forgettable on the project. It’s a sweet love song but doesn’t stand out on the track or add anything to the album overall.
The following track, “Puppy,” however, is sultry sounding and adds an edge to the project. The song acknowledges that life’s various challenges may not always be resolved. The lyrics offer a sense of yearning for youth while also recognizing that “some things don’t get easier.”
“I’m Sorry” is another piece that demonstrates Parks’ writing chops, detailing the difficulties of beginning a new relationship and how it’s easier to choose numbness over the possibility of being hurt. Parks once again uses a spoken-word/slower rap style in this song, which helps break up the flow.
“Room (Red Wings)” is another song about heartbreak and loss, but feels like one of the weaker tracks on the album, both sonically and lyrically.
The final track, “Ghost,” ends the project on a high note as one of the prettiest songs on the album. Parks’ cadence blends together well with the sonics and instrumentals to create a well-crafted song.
Overall, “My Soft Machine,” is a strong second album, and Parks has clearly expanded her range and explored new styles. She has wonderful moments throughout the project, and her introspectiveness and earnestness make her songs dynamic and captivating.