Thursday, February 11, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Hayley Williams - FLOWERS for VASES / descansos

I always enjoy surprise drops because they don't give me any time to set expectations or try to disappoint myself on the first listen. I sort of just throw my headphones on and dive in. And this album announcement really threw me for a loop. All signs were pointing towards a new Paramore album being in the fold next but here we are, less than a year later, with another solo album from Hayley Williams. For those who are unfamiliar, Hayley is the lead singer of one of the most popular power pop bands of the last 15 years Paramore. The band broke out into the mainstream in 2007 with the album RIOT! which is filled from cover to cover with great riffs, tons of energy, and bangers for days with songs like crushcrushcrush, That's What You Get, and most notably, Misery Business. Their following albums, Brand New Eyes and Paramore, I wasn't head over heels for but both albums had some great moments. The songs Misguided Ghosts and All I Wanted on Brand New Eyes are fantastic and if you want a great introduction to Paramore, listen to the songs Ain't It Fun and Still Into You off of the self-titled album, they're perfect pop and rock blends. The band then completely changed their sound with 2017s After Laughter, an album that embraced more disco and new wave and synth-pop influence. A lot of these songs sound super happy, super summery, but when you dive into the lyrics, it's really sad. For example the opening song Hard Times has a super slick guitar lick, some tight drums, and just makes you feel good and makes you wanna dance. Meanwhile, Hayley is singing in the chorus about how hard times in life are "gonna make you wonder why you even try...gonna take you down and laugh when you cry." The whole album is an incredible balancing act of happy sound but sad lyrics. 

Hayley Williams (middle) pictured with Paramore bandmates Taylor York (L) and Zac Farro (R)

And last year the experimenting continued with Williams dropping a solo album made up of 3 EPs named Petals for Armor which I reviewed pretty positively. I loved and still do love Hayley's writing all over the album and a lot of the Radiohead influence on the album suits her voice and performances well. But now we're here and like I said, I really expected a new Paramore album before this but I really will not complain. In a statement on her Instagram story, Hayley said that this album was recorded entirely in her Nashville home and that she recorded and performed every sound you hear on this album which really piqued my interest and got me interested for this album. She also clarified that Paramore is still a band so at least we have that to still look forward to. 

The album clocks in at 14 songs long, 42 minutes, and on the instrumental front, this album isn't really that assuming. Most of the songs are led by pianos and acoustic guitar and at points, I think that's one of the albums few downfalls as a lot of the songs just start blending together or sounding similar. And there was a comparison that I saw thrown around a lot from people during their first listens and I have to concur with the comparison they're making. This album is unapologetically influenced by Taylor Swift's two surprise albums last year folklore and evermore. Hayley herself even said in a studio video that this would be her folklore so I guess we knew what we were getting into. And you know what I'll be honest, on first listen, I didn't really care for this album and even found it a little boring. But reading into the lyrics and not listening to the album at 1 AM really opened a whole new door for this album. 

Williams performing with Paramore at Concrete Street Amphitheater in Corpus Christi, Texas. 

The opening song First Thing To Go starts the album off strong but like I said, there isn't too much going on instrumentally, just Hayley and an acoustic guitar. I love the rhythm in the chorus with the alternating octaves and the tempo going to double time. The song lyrically is about Hayley losing her grip on a lover who eventually walks out on here. There are some lines on here that sting, whether it's Hayley singing about how she "heard what I wanted until I couldn't" or any line in the second verse where she sings:

Time moves slow, I just talk to myself
I finish my own sentences the way you used to
Why do memories glow the way real moments don't? Ah
My altar is full of our love's delusions

The opening line on the song also sets the tone for it well with Hayley singing about how the first thing to leave was the sound of this lover's voice. My Limb is a song that Hayley leaked herself at the end of January. I'm still not 100% sure if I like it but once again, the lyrics are solid so I don't really have to think about it. On the song, Hayley is taking the act of cutting yourself off from someone quite literally, opening the song by saying "If you gotta amputate, don't give me the tourniquet." Once again, the second verse stands out more than the first with Hayley singing about how the other person in the relationship is a "shy little rabbit, teething on a shotgun." Asystole actually has a little more instrumental build to it. I love the glimmering synths and the muffled pianos that pop up across the song. There's also a nice guitar lead and some tambourine that add a nice atmosphere to the song. The outro to this song is one of many moments on this album that refers back to Petals for Armor with Hayley singing "revive another side of me" referencing the song Watch Me While I Bloom where she sings "you only got one side of me."

Trigger is a song where Hayley is looking back on past relationships and experiences and not in a positive way, the whole first verse is just emotionally devastating. She sings:

All I ever had to say about love is a sad song
I get off on telling everybody what went wrong
It makes me feel like the pain had a purpose
Keeps me believing that maybe it's worth it
Truth is, all I really want is somebody who wants me
Somebody I can count on who won't disappoint me
At first, it seems easy, I vow not to give up
Let 'em debase me while keeping my chin up

I also love the sort of twist in the chorus where she sings "I got the trigger but you hold the gun." Once again, the instrumental is super bare with just some acoustic guitar and piano in the background of the song. Over These Hills on the other hand shows Hayley thinking about an old friend or a past significant other and once again, it's not in a positive way but the lyrics on this song don't quite stand out as much. Instrumentally, this song sort of reminds me of Keep On Lying by Tame Impala. It might just be because they use the same chords but that's the first song comparison I thought of. I really love the fuzzy guitar solo at the end of the song too, it adds a really nice resolution to the song. Good Grief has one of the most bittersweet hooks on the album where Hayley sings "There's no such thing as good grief." The rest of the song, some fans speculate, is about Paramore's guitarist Taylor York and there's a few lines here where I can see that being plausible, the most obvious being "I put all my demons on display to your pretty music." There's not a whole lot that stands out about this song besides some beautiful vocal layers and a few good lines here and there. 

The song Wait On is about just that, waiting on someone who will likely never come into your life. I really like the string swells that pop up throughout the second chorus and I also really love Hayley's third verse on here where she sings:

There was a bird who never flew
But she still kept all of her feathers
So she could pluck 'em out for you
And you could wear them in your hair and
She'd be with you

There's a brief interlude with KYRH before we start the second half of the album with Inordinary with Hayley looking back on her career and life up until this point. She details her and her mom leaving town when Hayley was in 7th grade to meeting up with her now Paramore bandmates. It's a really heartfelt song and Hayley really opens herself up on this one. HYD has a hilarious intro where Hayley is outside recording herself just getting some ideas down. While she sings a plane flies by and she just bluntly goes, "are you f*cking kidding me?" Hayley is singing from the perspective of her mom on the song and I like the sentiment of the song where there's someone who you didn't match well with but late at night, you just lay there like "I wonder how that person is doing?" The instrumental on the song is super tense and fits with the tone of the lyrics incredibly well. No Use I Just Do is one of the few songs on here I would call a skip just because of how lazy the lyrics are. 2/3 of the song is Hayley singing the phrase "It's no use I just love you" over some piano chords and a great string arrangement. I'm also not a huge fan of the effect on her voice for the last half of the song, it just feels out of place to me. 

The album ends on a somewhat strong note even if I do think it could've bowed out so much better. Find Me Here is a song that's been reworked for this album but not drastically. Just a new mix and the chorus gets repeated one more time. I love the dueling vocal harmonies on the song and the chorus on here actually is pretty sweet with Hayley singing about how as long as this person loves her, they'll never be alone and how should they ever come back home, they'll find Hayley there waiting. The title track is an instrumental piano piece with Hayley sort of humming over the top. There's also some little guitar and string snippets that pop up here and there that add some nice ambiance. Then the closing track, Just A Lover, I mean, where am I supposed to begin? Hayley's performance on this song is likely her best vocal performance on the entire album especially on the second verse which is insane by the way. The first time I heard this song, the second verse sent my soul into orbit and I still don't think it's come down yet. There's a huge explosion of vocal harmonies, some crunchy guitars, and a huge distorted sub bassline. The lyrics on it show Hayley once again looking back at Paramore and singing about how she, Taylor, and drummer Zac Farro would make mixtapes and with bands they loved and how she really didn't want to wreck this. There are also some lines on the second verse where Hayley sings about the time she almost quit the band, singing "I'll be singing into empty glasses / No more music for the masses." It is a beautiful finish to the album. 

At the end of the day, I don't think I can confidently put this above Petals For Armor but if this shows anything, it's that Hayley's pen game is still unmatched. It's also extremely commendable that she could switch up styles so quickly yet still kill it. While I do have my problems with the album, mainly how drab and bare a lot of the instrumentals are, Hayley's lyrics and her performances really carry this album and pull it from being boring to being quite enjoyable. Now please! Can we get a new Paramore album now Hayley?

I would rate
FLOWERS for VASES/descansos
By Hayley Williams 


This album is available to stream wherever you get your music, there is no word on a physical release yet but I really hope it comes soon.

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