New Music Reviews: Arlo Parks and Paul Simon

One of this week’s artists is almost four times as old as the other – 81-year-old veteran Paul Simon has released his fifteenth solo album (along with five with Art Garfunkel). Meanwhile, 22-year-old Arlo Parks has just released her sophomore record.

Paul Simon

Seven Psalms

2023, 6/10
Paul Simon’s enjoyed an innovative career. Even on 2016’s Stranger to Stranger, released in his mid-70s, he was trying out new ideas, working with Harry Partch’s micro-tonal instruments and collaborating with Italian electronic artist Clap Clap. In comparison, 2023’s Seven Psalms is like a return to his roots, an acoustic singer-songwriter album that recalls his folk roots.

Critics have likened Seven Psalms to Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker and Bowie’s Blackstar, records released when the makers were staring at mortality. Despite Simon wrestling with spirituality and mortality, singing lines like “Dip your hand in Heaven’s waters”, he’s indicated that it’s not a farewell.

“Of course, I’m 81 years old. Of course, I think about it. But I mean, is it pressing on me? No, it’s not.”

Paul Simon,

There are signs of wear and tear. Simon’s voice had remained unscathed for decades, but it’s showing decay here. Simon’s also been dealing with hearing loss in his left ear, perhaps explaining his retreat to simplicity here.

The appeal of Seven Psalms is 90% lyrics and 10% music – Simon isn’t able to impress with clever arrangements and twists of melody. It’s all one long song, divided into seven sections. Simon largely retired from music a few years ago, but it’s nice to have him back, delivering patently Simon lines like “In my professional opinion/I’m no more satisfied than you are”.

I can’t see myself returning to Seven Psalms often – Simon has far more musically satisfying album. But I’m glad he made it, one more chance to hear one of my all-time favourites on record.

Arlo Parks

My Soft Machine

2023, 8/10
London-born indie artist Arlo Parks is on her second album. Her debut Collapsed in Sunbeams was successful, winning the Mercury Prize for best album in 2021. She’s cited My Bloody Valentine and Irish band Fontaines D.C. as influences for My Soft Machine. It’s not always readily apparent – there’s some edge, but it’s mainly an indie pop album with nice tunes and clever lyrics, fronted by a charismatic and authentic artist.

It’s diverse – ‘Devotion’ hits hards with tough guitars, while Phoebe Bridgers adds pretty harmonies to ‘Pegasus’. There’s an unsettling edge to tunes like ‘Purple Phase’ and ‘Blades’, but often the default mode is pretty, especially on the back half of the record. Parks is also a talented lyricist, sensible enough to keep these lyrics simple and clean.

I radiate like a star, like a star, star, star
I radiate like a star, like a star, star, star
I radiate like a star, like a star, star, star

When you embrace all my impurities
When you embrace all my impurities
When you embrace all my impurities
And I feel clean again

At heart, My Soft Machine is a pop album – it’s an impressive one, relatable and filled with strong tunes.

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  1. Simon’s voice sounds better than I thought it would. Most of his songs are inviting and have well constructed lyrics. He hasn’t lost that. I will give this one a try.
    A couple of my favorite “newer” Simon songs are “Old” and I liked “You’re The One.”

  2. I do sympathise with singers who can’t reach the notes they used to because of age. Paul still sounds pretty good though. I was also impressed with the Arlo song.

    • Yeah, there are just a few moments where he sounds like he’s stretching. Before that he sounded amazingly unchanged for 60 years.

  3. You’ve got to give octogenarians like Paul Simon, Graham Nash, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney, et. al. credit for continuing to write and record new music and try to remain relevant. It’s also heartening to see innovative young artists like Arlo Parks following in their footsteps. She has an unusual but distinctive voice that’s instantly recognizable, a great attribute to have in a terribly overcrowded industry.

    • It’s probably a better environment for older artists to make albums now. No big overwhelming trends to keep up with, no expectations of success.

    • Yeah, Christian from Christian’s Music Musings has been enthusiastic about that as well. It did send me to listen to his 1979 album, which I’m enjoying.

    • I wonder if that’s the oldest person in the world to ever make an album. I never heard of anyone older. I wonder what it’s like. To me he was never the same after Mott the Hoople. But that would have been hard to do anyway. Mott is in my Top 50 All Time Greatest Albums and it always will be cuz it’s still great.

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Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person. It features album reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

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Graham Fyfe has been writing this website since his late teens. Now in his forties, he's been obsessively listening to albums for years. He works as a web editor and plays the piano.

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