Album Review: Hayley Williams – FLOWERS FOR VASES / descansos

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Just last year, Hayley Williams released her first solo album Petals for Armor which saw the pop-punk singer depart from her high-energy, crowd pleasing songs in Paramore, to the more individual, 80s-revitalised sound. For the first time, listeners were granted access to Williams’ personal thoughts about previous relationships and issues going on in her life. That is to say, last Thursday, Williams surprised fans with the announcement of her brand-new 14-song solo project FLOWERS FOR VASES / descansos. Unlike the previous record, Williams took to Instagram to explain how the new album was not really “a follow-up to Petals For Armor. If anything, it’s a prequel, or some sort of detour between parts 1 and 2 of Petals. The meaning of the album as a whole is maybe entirely different from diving into each song in particular.” Compared to her art-pop, ode to the 80s style previous record, this new album is a striking and stand-alone through its echo of vulnerability and story-telling through each track. The record provides listeners with the opportunity to delve deeper into the confessional side to William’s character. There is the ability to have first-hand experience of hearing Williams grow both on a personal and musical level through the projection of her experiences with broken love and loneliness.

The ability to use limited instrumentation, providing direct focus to the vocals makes the experience of listening to the album truly captivating.

The album opens up with ‘The First Thing to Go’, which immediately introduces one of the recurring themes to the record, the idea of loneliness resulted from a significant breakup. One line that stuck after listening to the song for the first time was ‘Time moves slow, I just talk to myself, I just finish my own sentences the way you used to.’ These lyrics not only draw upon the vulnerable side of Williams but emphasises the difficulty in transitioning from having such a stable connection with someone to suddenly being thrown in the deep end, scared to understand how to comprehend loneliness again. Many listeners have already taken to social media to create covers of this song due to its true beauty and transcendent nature. The song has the ability to transport and make listeners think back to a time when they too felt the difficult emotions and concepts Williams experienced.

Williams has certainly not forgotten her Paramore days. ‘Inordinary’ delves deep into the artist reminiscing over the transition from childhood, to the teenage years and finally to situations in young adult life. Jumping into the music scene from her late teens, the first verse discusses Hayley’s view of being a woman in the industry, being considered a ‘consolation prize’ and ‘just one of the guys’. As the song continues, she switches to talking about experiences from childhood, going through the hardships of suddenly being whisked away by her mother to Tennessee and leaving home when she was a teenage to pursue her music career. I understand the song as Williams emphasising how her life was never normal from the rollercoaster of events she experienced.

Delving into a lyrically darker, almost haunting side, the song that stands out and is becoming a fan favourite is ‘My Limb’. The line ‘if you gotta amputate/Don’t give me the tourniquet’ demonstrates the conflicting situation Williams finds herself in. She appears to be trying to comprehend how to cut her ex-lover out of her life, despite not expressively wanting this as she considers them to be part of her. The guitar riff, heavy bass, percussion and echoing harmonies accompanying the main vocals truly elevate this song to a level where the song definitely leaves an impact on listeners. Another song which highlights this darker element to the record is ‘Good Grief’, which sees Williams expressing how through separating there are no positive spins on the situation for both parties. The ambient nature to the track, particularly in the link between the chorus and verses, emphasise the ambiguous nature to the narrator. Contrasting to the previous tracks where Williams typically expresses her feelings, in the chorus of this track she urges her ex-lover to share their feelings through the medium of song with the lyrics ‘One more time, play me something, I won’t sing.’

Although not as upbeat or experimental as her previous album, Flowers for Vases / descansos is an ode to personal confession that emphasises the mature route Williams’ solo music is taking in the industry.

Personally, my favourite tracks off the record are ‘Trigger’ and ‘Wait On’ due to both expressing a delicate, almost vibrant tone in comparison to the other songs. The opening lines of ‘Trigger’, ‘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’ reminisces Williams’ viewing her music an accomplishment from the hardships she’s faced in her love life. ‘Wait On’ takes a more poetic approach lyrically, with Williams embedding herself in the metaphor of natural imagery. The chorus ‘The sky will wake up everything morning / And sometimes feels the need to pour out / All the feelings it’s been holding’ emphasises the recurring theme through each song, the feeling of hurting but still having the ability to remain intact for the sake of others. Both these songs in their own right are truly beautiful, with Williams bordering between expressing the sense of hope and loneliness through each lyric sung.  

‘Over those Hills’ goes hand in hand with ‘Trigger’, with it directly following. The song is a clear demonstration of another coping mechanism Williams uses to come to terms with a break-up. The discussion of her thoughts about an ex-partner echoes throughout the lyrics, but crucially there is a reference to Williams avoiding pain by taking ‘pills’. The ‘pills’ produce feelings of hope for a short period but then the wave of numbness returns. Additionally, the idea of ‘Hills’ could be a reference to the idea of overcoming whereby Williams and her ex-lover are trying to heal from the unstable relationship, and by doing so they are able to reach a place of content once again. The low, natural tone to Williams’ voice makes the meaningful lyrics shine, whereby listeners feel as if they have this direct connection to the vulnerable narrator as she pours out her story.

Listeners have a first-hand experience of hearing Williams grow both on a personal and musical level through the projection of her experiences with broken love and loneliness through each track.

The album ends with ‘Just a Lover’, which is similar to ‘My Limb’ through its heavier nature as a result of the larger, instrumental texture used. The song opens up with an emotive feel through the isolated piano accompaniment and Williams’ vocals that are not sung directly into the microphone, but instead feel as if they are in the distance. The first lyric sung ‘Love is not a friend, it’s not a brother’, ties together the entire theme of the album, that love is not an easy concept to grasp through it leading individuals down paths of loneliness and pain. As the texture builds, Williams’ voice similarly follows where her vocals transition from the ambiguous, pained sound to a more dramatic, concrete character. The final lyrics ‘I know exactly what this is / Or whatever it was, or whatever it is’, highlights the ever-changing nature of music, where the lyrics Williams created in Paramore greatly contrast to her material now as an individual artist.

Although not as upbeat or experimental as her previous album, Flowers for Vases / descansos is an ode to personal confession that emphasises the mature route Williams’ solo music is taking in the industry. The ability to use limited instrumentation, providing direct focus to the vocals makes the experience of listening to the album truly captivating. From listening to the record in full, there is a real sense of emergence, where listeners embrace and understand the narrative Williams portrays through her poetic lyrics.

You can listen to Hayley Williams’ album here.

Image Credit: Lindsey Byrnes

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