Arlo Parks’s second album, after 2021′s acclaimed Collapsed in Sunbeams, continues to negotiate the more introspective elements of life, with its title inspired by Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir, from 2019, in which one character says, “We don’t want to see life as it is played out. We want to see life as it is experienced in this soft machine.”
And there is much softness to this record – it is conveyed through the sweetness in Parks’s voice, which she uses to interesting effect, from the spoken word on Bruiseless to the guilelessness of her vocal on Ghost, with its squelchy beats providing an anchor as she sings, “I don’t want to be that friend that’s always in pain.”
It’s a song like this that serves Parks best, where duality and tension create a pleasing energy, whereas songs like Devotion and Pegasus, featuring Phoebe Bridgers (who seems to pop up everywhere), take the sweetness to more saccharine sands.
There are various musical references that work well: the 1980s inflection on Blades, the trip hop of Puppy and the shoegaze of Dog Rose, with its lovely glassy guitars. Purple Phase has a mellow kind of grace, Weightless is stuttering beauty, and there is a hazy loveliness to Room (Red Wings). I’m Sorry is probably the best song on the record, with its gorgeous bass, so simple and affecting, revealing a wistful beauty that Parks does so well.