“My Soft Machine,” by Arlo Parks (Transgressive)
Britpop artist Arlo Parks approaches her work as a poet, laying incisive lyrics over a murkily cozy lo-fi hip-hop. On her second album, “My Soft Machine,” Parks balances childlike wonder with personal trauma and disappointment. The opening track, “Bruiseless,” sets the mood expertly with the line, “I just wish that my eyes were still wide.”
Since the release of her 2018 single, “Cola,” Parks has produced a steady stream of stories told with disarming warmth and honesty. Her debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” composed during quarantine, is a striking document of time spent inside her room and her mind. On the new release, she retains her inviting, catchy vibe, but starts to venture outside both thematically and musically.
In interviews, Park says that she has come to know exactly what she wants. On “My Soft Machine,” Parks stays true to her DIY foundations, but, as a producer on the recording, she has expanded her sound. The exploration taps a broad range of influences — musicians such as Portishead, Elliott Smith and Joni Mitchell, as well as a precise focus on mood inspired by visual artists such as photographer Nan Goldin and filmmaker David Lynch.
Overall, Parks offers a lusher sound than on past recordings. The vocals at times skirt the edge of overproduction, but her unique delivery is preserved by frequent shifts from singing to spoken work. Parks delivers some of the most personal lines by pronouncing them softly and deliberately.
On the third track, “Devotion,” Parks pushes beyond her familiar lo-fi loops into a noisier guitar-driven swirl, even name-checking the Breeders’ Kim Deal in the song. Hot on its heels comes “Blades,” which features an irresistible hook that sounds as though it bounced around the universe for a thousand years before Parks captured it.
The track “Pegasus” features Phoebe Bridgers on supporting vocals. Their voices mesh readily and the pair repeat the line “I think you’re special ’cause you told me” in what may be the most cautiously optimistic song in either of their respective catalogs. Bridgers has a passionate fan base that is set to explode in her summer tours with Boygenius and Taylor Swift. This collaboration promises to expose Parks to some of that audience stateside.
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Jim Pollock, The Associated Press