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My Soft Machine is a powerfully subtle return from Arlo Parks

"My Soft Machine"

Release date: 26 May 2023
Arlo Parks - My Soft Machine cover
24 May 2023, 09:00 Written by Adam Wright

By this point, Arlo Parks needs little introduction.

She had conquered the UK by the time she turned 22; picking up a Mercury Prize amongst other awards for her debut album, Collapsed In Sunbeams. Now, in the year that will see her turn 23, she returns with the equally compelling My Soft Machine.

The album also lands on thematically comfortable ground, drawing, as its predecessor did, on the difficulties of navigating adulthood’s early stages. In exploring things like getting over unrequited love (“Weightless”), tackling failing relationships head-on (“Blades”) and feeling self-acceptance through others (“Impurities”) Parks is able to capture the pain, angst, and joy she describes in staggering definition.

The record fortifies the musical strong points of its predecessor, crafting blissful atmospheres as soft as they are sturdy. Gleaming synths drift through the mix, often finding themselves floating atop subtle R&B drums and wobbly bass lines, which accumulate to form a bed for Parks’ effortlessly comforting vocals. “Room (red wings)” – a highlight of the album’s musical prowess – sees the singer’s voice almost consumed by the vast synths beneath it, taking it to another worldly level.

Creating relaxing atmospheres is a craft Parks has been perfecting since she first emerged, and a trade she’s now well-practised in, but to say My Soft Machine is merely a rehash of what’s come before would be inaccurate. There’s a clear intent to musically explore here; tracks like the guitar-rich “Devotion” (which features a guitar break fit for an early Radiohead track), the hip-hop embellished “Blades” and dance-tinged “Dog Rose” all push Parks’ sound to places it's not been before.

Similarly, "Purple Phase", which exhibits guitars that could have been borrowed from Lorde’s “Stoned In The Nail Salon”, and the layered production of "Pegasus" – which features guest vocals from Phoebe Bridgers – explore a deeper corner of the singer’s more subtle tendencies.

Doing what it says on the tin, My Soft Machine is powerfully subtle, and reasserts Parks’ ability to capture and alleviate negative emotions, while simultaneously furthering her exploration of the sound that put her on the map.

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