A thoroughly charming neo-soul debut; an electronic album by a Northern Irish DJ duo; a quietly beautiful record about grief and climate change.
Collapsed in Sunbeams
This introspective album from a 20-year-old London girl requires zero effort to fall in love with. You could maybe accuse it of being too pleasant and easy on the ear, if not for the genuine warmth in Parks’ unaffected, soothing vocals and soulful sound that feels like a familiar comfy blanket. Her airy voice might not possess much range, but you just want to listen to her stories about everyday life that have a feel of diary entries. She is skilled at observing small details with a great turn of phrase: a depressed friend doing her eyes “like Robert Smith”, “strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage” in a song about a fighting couple on a street. When she sings about topics such as mental health and sexual identity, there’s no feeling of some obligatory boxes getting ticked; Parks’ naturalness is one of her great strengths here.
Musically, the album doesn’t stray too far from the restrained mix of beats, bass, gentle guitars and keyboards, shades of vintage soul and crackly samples. Hopefully there will be some more experimentation in the future, but for now it’s just enough to enjoy this assured, delightful debut.
I can never fully explain why some electronic music clicks with me and evokes an emotional response when most of it just makes me shrug with indifference. Anyway, this second album from a Belfast duo instantly grabbed my attention with its epic soundscapes and a rich mood that somehow combines both elation and melancholy. There’s an interesting tension between the pretty and wistful melodies, and tough crunchy beats that are almost abrasive in places; you can’t really imagine this album as an inoffensive dinner party background but it’s also not strictly for the mindless good times at a dance floor.
A couple of tracks feature sweet breathy female vocals reminiscent of Kelly Lee Owens, and there’s a touch of global music on Apricots, with the samples of Bulgarian choir and traditional Malawian singers. Of all the albums I discovered while parsing the Best of 2021 lists, this was probably the most surprising find that took me out of my usual musical zone.
THE WEATHER STATION
It’s been a while since a song made me play it obsessively over and over, and last year Tamara Lindeman’s Robber was one of these rare songs. An atmospheric jazz-pop number, opening with arresting percussion before the full band including an eerie saxophone and strings, with Lindeman’s hushed conversational vocals delivering a searing indictment of the corporate thieves, it got under my skin like few songs ever did.
Naturally, it made me curious about the rest of the album, which as I found out was largely inspired by the existential threat of the climate change. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not in the least didactic or filled with bleak visions of future cataclysms – Lindeman’s dread and grim thoughts about nature and the human activity are conveyed in a manner that’s urgent yet introverted. Her vocals don’t jump out at you demanding attention, they draw you in while remaining quiet and restrained.
Aside from the haunting piano-led Trust, it took a few listens for me to really get into Isolation, which sounds lush, layered and gorgeous throughout but does have a few tracks that kinda blur together until you give them more time to sink in. Judging by Robber, I didn’t expect it to be quite as 80s-influenced as it turned out to be – not a bad thing, mind you, as those elements add throb and energy to an album that otherwise might have been too tasteful for its own good.