My Soft Machine

My Soft Machine

“Almost everyone that I love has been abused, and I am included,” declares Arlo Parks with arresting honesty in the first lines of her second album My Soft Machine. Then, almost in the same breath, she adds, “The person I love is patient with me/She’s feeding me cheese and I’m happy.” It’s an apt introduction to an album that both basks in the light—as Parks celebrates the affirming joy of falling deeply in love—and delves into darkness. “The core concept of the project is that this is reality and memory through my eyes, experienced within this body,” Parks tells Apple Music. “From the loss of innocence to the reliving of trauma to the endless nights bursting through Koreatown to first kisses in dimly lit dive bars, this is about my life.” It’s all told, of course, with the poetic, diary-entry lyricism that made Collapsed in Sunbeams so special—and which catapulted Parks to voice-of-a-generation status. Here, Parks also allows her indie-pop sound to unfurl, with embraces of synths, scuzzy guitars (see “Devotion,” the album’s most electrifying and unexpected moment), jazz, gorgeous harmonies (on the sweet, Phoebe Bridgers-guested “Pegasus”), electronic music, and more. That came, she says, in part from the team she assembled for the album, who allowed her to be more “fluid” (My Soft Machine was worked on with names including BROCKHAMPTON producer Romil Hemnani, the prolific US songwriter/producer Ariel Rechtshaid, and Frank Ocean collaborator Baird). “The community that organically formed around the album is one of my favorite things about it,” says Parks. “I think there is a confidence to the work. There is a looseness and an energy. There was a sense of sculpting that went beyond the more instinctive and immediate process of making album one. I am very proud of this.” Read on for the singer-songwriter’s track-by-track guide to My Soft Machine. “Bruiseless” “This song is about childhood abandon and the growing pains. It was inspired by a conversation I had with [American poet] Ocean Vuong where he said he was constantly trying to capture the unadulterated joy of cycling up to a friend’s house and abandoning the bike on the grass, wheels spinning, whilst you race up to their door—the softness and purity of that moment.” “Impurities” “I wrote this song the first time I met my dear friend Romil from BROCKHAMPTON. My friends and I were party-hopping and every time we called an Uber it was a Cadillac Escalade, which we thought was hilarious at the time. This is a song that is simply about being happy and feeling truly accepted.” “Devotion” “Romil, Baird and I were driving to a coffee shop called Maru in the Arts District of LA in Baird’s Suzuki Vitara that I nicknamed the ‘Red Rocket.’ We were blasting ‘17 Days’ by Prince. The three of us decided two things during that 15-minute round trip: that we had to fully commit to drama and that we were a rock band for the day.” “Blades” “The reference to the aquarium scene in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet refers to the idea of looking at a person you once knew so intimately and something indescribable has changed—as if you’re looking at each other through ocean water or obscure glass.” “Purple Phase” “The guitars you hear on this song are Paul [Epworth, the British producer who also worked on Collapsed in Sunbeams] and I just improvising. It was the last day of a long working week, we were feeling free and connected and our heads were cleared by exhaustion—we didn’t even have the capacity to overthink. This song has one of my favorite lines I’ve ever written: ‘I just want to see you iridescent charming cats down from trees/Mugler aviators hiding eyes that laugh when concealed.’” “Weightless” “Making ‘Weightless’ was a defining moment in the album process. I felt completely unchained from Collapsed in Sunbeams. Anything was possible, Paul [Epworth] and I were just chaos-dancing around the room and giggling. This one is very special to me and gave me so much creative confidence.” “Pegasus (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)” “Of course ‘Pegasus’ features lovely Phoebe [Bridgers]. The inspirations for the sparseness melting into the light, dancy beat were ‘White Ferrari’ by Frank Ocean, ‘Talk Down’ by Dijon, and ‘Grieve Not the Spirit’ by AIR. This is the first song I’ve written being so candid about how tricky it can be to accept someone being unbelievably kind.” “Dog Rose” “The original demo for this song was recorded in a hotel room in Toronto. I had the idea for the riff in the chorus and I was lying wide awake at 3 am just letting it drive me insane. Then I got up and ran about 15 blocks, through parks and across bridges, to get my guitar from the bus and get the idea down. It was very dramatic.” “Puppy” “I had always wanted to capture that half-spoken, half-melodic cadence—kind of like Frank Ocean in ‘In My Room’—and I was so pleased when I achieved it. The fuzzed-out guitar-sounding instrument is actually this little synth that [producer] Buddy [Ross] has. We were trying to recreate the energy of [my bloody valentine’s] Loveless.” “I’m Sorry” “Garrett Ray from Vampire Weekend’s touring band is on drums and David Longstreth [the lead singer and guitarist] from Dirty Projectors is on guitar for this one. Sculpting the right sonic treatment for this song took what felt like years, but it’s definitely my favorite song on the record from a textural and feel point of view.” “Room (Red Wings)” “‘Red Wings’ is a reference to the book Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. The main character has distinctive red wings; his home life is tumultuous and he finds comfort in photography and falls deeply in love with a man called Herakles. The fragility and heart-rending nature of this book mirrors the broken quality of the song.” “Ghost” “This is the oldest song on the record. I demoed it in the winter of 2020 in my childhood bedroom. At the core of the song is a sense of embracing help, embracing human touch, learning not to suffer in solitude, learning to let people in.”

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