Although quarantine has been insufferable for most, it's also allowed creatives more time to explore their craft. Although, Hayley Williams of Paramore began her side-quest as a solo artist right at the beginning of 2020, introducing the era of Petals For Armor. The full album was later released in May, with a slew of ethereal music videos and virtual performances surrounding it. Ringing in the new year, Williams initiated various hints at new music on the horizon from short clips of in-house studio sessions to mystifying graphics (seen below.)
Illustration by Luke Howard
Williams introduced this Flowers for Vases or Descansos era not as a follow-up album but as a "prequel" or a "detour between parts 1 & 2 of Petals for Armor." Williams also takes great pride (as she should) in Flowers for Vases being written & recorded all by herself at her home in isolation. Knowing the intentions before you listen, allows the listener to truly feel her culmination of sorrow, grief & introspection before delving into the self-actualization of its predecessor.
The album begins with the acoustic guitar-driven track, "First Thing To Go," initiating a slow chill of Williams' layered vocals with faint strings & piano accompanying it. The wonderfully haunting melodies continue as we transition into the dark tones of "My Limb." This track also acted as the first official teaser from this project as Williams mailed fans plastic doll limbs (like an arm or leg) with a note reading "plant me" attached. Not to mention one special fan receiving a hand-delivered doll limb along with a burnt CD of FFV & Sanctuary candle from Williams herself. In any case, this song reveals the inner-strife of potentially cutting someone out who's been so integral to your life thus far; "if your part of me is gone now, do I want to survive?"
Any medical drama TV show fans may be familiar with the title of the next track, "Asystole." For those unfamiliar, the term refers to the total cessation of a heartbeat or a "cardiac flatline." The guitar progression of this track mimic a steady cardiac monitor as piano intertwines and crescendos by the bridge. Yet another internal conflict made palpable to the listener-- to unplug from a heart that's already stopped beating. "Trigger" follows with a delightfully autumnal acoustic guitar and piano feel. The chorus repeats "'Cause I got the trigger but you hold the gun / How come you never put the safety on?" emphasizing the loss of self-control in a toxic relationship. Track 5, "Over The Hills," begins similarly to "Asystole" as the rhythmic acoustic guitar progressions unwind. However, after the first verse, a Fleetwood Mac-like jive kicks in and sonically tumbles over the hills as the tune waves in & out.
Nearly half-way through the album, is the haunting melody of "Good Grief." With delicately layered vocals reminiscent of Elliott Smith paired with a grand piano is altogether an outpouring of personal candor. "Skin and bones when you're not near me / I'm all skeleton and melody." The track fades out with what seems to be recording of an old home-video of children happily squealing. "Wait On" is the following track and has the signature acoustic guitar plucking pattern we've become accustomed to but with a slightly lighter, more uplifting feel. The chorus recites "the sky still wakes up every morning / And sometimes feels the need to pour out" to parallel the nature of human emotion. Track 8 is poignant piano ballad, "KYRH." The acronym standing for "keep you right here" as she longingly repeats this throughout the rain-falling melody.
The song "Inordinary" follows Williams back to her childhood as she refers to all of the outside influences that lead her to the person she is today. To the clever reference to Paramore's Single's Club with the mention of "Renegade" to coming full-circle in self-discovery with the lyrics "I was somebody's" to "I am nobody's." This gentle cadence evolves into distorted & rewound vocals before fading out into the next track, "HYD." It begins, funnily enough, with a phone recording of Williams attempting to perform the song outside before an overhead airplane interrupts-- only making the opening line that much more ironic. "When the air is quiet and the sky is blue." The nostalgic acoustic track based on someone who made a prominent impact as she sings, "I know it's hard for you to take a compliment / But my life began, the day which you came in it."
"No Use I Just Do" ties together the overwhelming feelings of pain and peace with a dramatic piano ballad. It truly becomes visceral as she continues to cry out, "It's no use, I just love you." Next, comes a more familiar acoustic tune from Williams' Petals For Armor: Self-Serenades, "Find Me Here." This guitar-plucking track assures a loved one that they're not alone even though it may feel like it while also assuring herself that she's not alone. "Descansos" follows as a beautiful instrumental piano interlude over-layed with evocative vocals & childhood voice recordings. Descansos is a Spanish term referring to a memoriam of those who have passed; often displayed at the place of the accident with a cross, flowers & candles. This would then tie together the concept of Flowers for Vases / Descansos as one musical & emotional entity. The concluding track, "Just A Lover," starts off sonically distant as if you're listening-in on Williams perform in her living room before diving into a more intimate studio recording with a drum kit & airy strings. It's not until after the second chorus where we're introduced to the deep electric guitar eluding to a triumphant rock ending as she sings, "In the morning I feel my heart crack open, one last chorus." After digesting & reflecting as listeners, we soon see how this conclusion & overall essence of this project leads into the Petals for Armor body.
After listening, it's evident that even the Flowers for Vases cover art (by Lindsey Byrnes) somehow encapsulates this album's ethos perfectly. It's ultimately been a privilege to follow Miss Williams on this emotionally damaging yet rewarding journey. This era she's created as a solo artist is all very deliberate & meticulous while still being completely free of musical confinements. I can only imagine what elements Williams will bring on tour with these projects... only time will tell!
Written by Deirdre Kelly
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