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Altrok Showcase w/ Sean Carolan

CD of The Week

Week of 5/29/23

    Arlo Parks - My Soft Machine (Transgressive / PIAS)

    Arlo Parks' second album My  Soft Machine comes just in time for the summer; it's a sun-drenched, nostalgic, and melancholy soundtrack for headphone-clad jaunts down hazy beaches and streets. Drawing on influences from folk, indie-pop, R&B, and hip-hop, the Mercury Prize-winning Parks collaborated with a bevy of producers to translate her feelings of mid-twenties anxiety and insecurities into a master class of Gen-Z storytelling. For every exposé of her own faults and vulnerability, there is a complimentary celebration of new love or contentment. For example, opener "Bruiseless" finds her pining for the innocence of youth while "The person I love is patient with me, She's feeding me cheese and I'm happy." In just over a minute Arlo has set the stage for the entire record.

    The album title is inspired by the 2019 film The Souvenir in which a character discusses why we consume art, ultimately experiencing it through our body, the soft machine. Arlo herself delivers vocals with a softness that lays bare the intimacy of mental health. As an ambassador for the charity C.A.L.M. (Campaign Against Living Miserably), she literally puts her money where her mouth is. Nowhere does this message ring truer than on "Impurities," about how important it is to surround yourself with loved ones who accept you warts and all. Album ending "Ghost" slinks along with 90's trip-hop vibes and highlights the value of finally accepting help.

    Parks' songwriting has evolved on her sophomore release. Here she easily weaves musings of rhododendron, cardamom, and Claire Danes into her thoughtful imagery. "Puppy," a song about navigating the fears of moving into adulthood, tries to make sense of it all with allusions to Wim Wenders movies and "big mulberry stains on tennis dresses." Fellow troubadour Phoebe Bridgers guests on "Pegasus," adding harmonics in a lower, more sensual register; it's a beautiful compliment that doesn't overshadow. Always the poet, Arlo occasionally drops into spoken word verses, intoning directly from the heart, like breaking the fourth wall. These moments of sincerity are especially lovely.

    Early singles like "Weightless" and "Blades" ramp up the synth-wave grooves and are easily the most radio-friendly, but deeper tracks like "Purple Phase," with its chiming guitars, and the jazzy "Room (red wings)" add welcome sonic depth to My Soft Machine. Even "Devotion" wears its 90's indie rock vibe on its sleeve (she dons a Sebadoh t-shirt in the video). Overall, it's a logical step away, but not too far away, from her impressive debut Collapsed In Sunbeams. Parks continues to prove that taking care of yourself is simultaneously arduous and beautifully rewarding.
    Review by Dave Lindquist

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