According to the Guardian, after Arlo Parks’s critically acclaimed and award winning debut album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams,” released in 2021, the release of her second album, “My Soft Machine,” has been highly anticipated. With soft, melodic beats and introspective and intimate lyrics, Parks explores the themes of love and adoration with tenderness.
“My Soft Machine” was released on May 26, with the lead single “Weightless,” along with the singles “Impurities,” “Blades” and “Pegasus” preceding it. The record has a tracklisting of 12 songs, clocking in at 40 minutes and 47 seconds long. The deluxe version was released on Dec. 8, with acoustic versions and some unreleased songs on the tracklist.
The album opens with “Bruiseless,” the shortest song on the album, which is only one minute and 11 seconds long. “Bruiseless” is entirely performed in spoken-word form, and immediately, an intimate atmosphere is created. “I wish I was bruiseless/Almost everyone that I love has been abused, and I am included,” she sings. She feels so deeply that she takes on the responsibility for her loved ones’ happiness.
Parks has been open with her mental health struggles, and has previously spoken about the profound sense of empathy she lives her life with. “Sometimes I am just drowning. Even if somebody just sends me a message about my song, I take on that weight. I find it so hard to separate myself,” Parks told The Guardian.
The third song on the record, “Devotion,” opens with a soft beat but progressively gets more passionate as Parks revels in her love. “All yours baby/Fill Me with your nervous love.” Parks sings about the acceptance and liberty she feels when she is with her love. This is shown in the outro of the song, which is again in spoken-word style, “I think in a way, I’ve always loved you /I used to hate it when people said that shit/But I mean it/You make me feel free.”
My favorite song of the album is track five, “Purple Phase.” The song is moodier and not as upbeat as the other tracks, reflecting the more serious issues Parks is singing about. The song charts Parks trying to help her friend Jodie, possibly suffering from depression and addiction. “Terrified of turning twenty-four/Promising to rise above the thoughts/Try to flush her pills and get support.” However, no matter what Parks does she cannot seem to help her friend. “It’s just a purple phase,” is the line repeated during the chorus.
“Pegasus” featuring Phoebe Bridgers is one of the most impressive on the album. Less intense than “Devotion,” it follows the ‘bedroom-pop’ style Parks is famous for. The lyrics in “Pegasus” are some of the most imaginative and poetic on the album, ‘Cause I need love like a body needs sugar, I need love.” Bridgers is most prominent during the chorus, “I spun ’round and screamed, I feel elated when you hold me/Then you got shy and beamed, I think it’s special that you told me.”
“Pegasus” is a very intimate look at the love between Parks and her partner, we can assume the love she is referencing is her girlfriend Ashnikko, who she started dating in 2021. In an interview with NPR, Parks revealed the special bond she feels. When talking about the song “Pegasus,” Parks said, “It’s very rare to feel completely seen by somebody and to feel that you can reveal all facets of your soul and your dreams and who you are.”
Overall, I would describe “My Soft Machine” as a very solid and impressive sophomore album, although it does not rise to the heights of Parks’ first album, “Collapsed in Sunbeams.” Parks has a talent for imaginative and meaningful lyrics that resonates deeply emotionally. Her lyrics and the themes behind the album can be heavy but Parks maintains a happy and dreamy tone throughout. The only criticism I have is that some of the tracks feel a little formulaic and indistinguishable, with one song melting right into the next at parts. The good parts of her album include the lyrics and dream pop style, however the bad parts are the lack of diversity and the lack of intensity and passion.