Arlo Parks’ poetic debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams gives us windows into the painful details of intense depression, grief, and heartbreak, but she never abandons hope.
It’s not often that I genuinely enjoy every song on an album, and I have had Collapsed in Sunbeams on shuffle for the past week. The 20-year-old British poet and songwriter makes a gentle, but powerful, emergence into the music world with her first solo album released on January 29, 2021. The sixth track, “Black Dog,” a slang term for depression, cuts deep in the sweetest and most devastating of ways.
The attentive strums of guitar gently permeate the lo-fi beat. Warm and layered, like your best friend’s sweatshirt, “Black Dog’s” swaying instrumentals take you by the hand without dropping their support for a second. The only way out is through, and Arlo Parks feels it all in a healing portrait of a supportive friend during a difficult time.
I’d lick the grief right off your lips
You do your eyes like Robert Smith
Sometimes it seems like you won’t survive this
And honestly it’s terrifying
The sad, but lulling melody pairs with lyrics of a terrified friend. Arlo poetically takes us through the daily struggles of encouraging motivation in the simplest things:
Just take some medicine and eat some food
I would do anything to get you out your room
The devotion that Arlo shows emerges in a helpless, almost desperate way. Reaching someone in the throes of depression can feel impossible.
I’d take a jump off the fire escape
To make the black dog go away
A black dog in many mythologies is seen to represent the devil, or an omen of death. The “Black Dog” that Arlo sings of ties into the symbolism of death, as an emblem of suicide. She uses the phrase, “I’d take a jump off the fire escape” as an expression of how devoted she is to her friend’s recovery, an oxymoron in conjunction with the topic of suicide, offering to kill herself metaphorically to save her friend from their depression.
Arlo shares in an interview with BBC News that “Black Dog” was written for her best friend, who had been struggling with depression. She says “I was feeling helpless in the face of her pain, which seemed to be coming at her for no reason. And I think it’s just a documentation of a minute in time when I was afraid to lose a friend.”
Arlo Park’s willingness to take down walls allows for her audience to connect in a uniquely intimate way.
I became emotional reading through the YouTube comments section of the music video, the stories that people shared about loved ones struggling with depression, and their own battles speak volumes to how raw and deeply relatable “Black Dog” and Arlo’s poetry is.
It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason
The message of “Black Dog” being received so emphatically by an audience demonstrates how important it is to see such an honest expression of humanity, and why art is so important for healing. The persistence of love is what stands out the most in this song, like a ship in a storm that sways with each rocking wave.
Arlo keeps her head above the water and shares with us her life raft.