by Kristin McKee / Roosevelt Editor
Despite COVID-19 suspending the music scene’s ability to flourish through concert tours and festivals, music composition has continued on as normal for many musicians. From Taylor Swift’s “folklore” and “evermore” albums to Charli XCX’s “How I’m Feeling Now,” musicians have shown that an unusually-prolonged period of solitude cannot hinder or pause their creative process. In fact, it has allowed musicians to test different genres with no hesitation, including Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams.
Earlier this month, Williams announced her second solo album “Flowers for Vases/Descansos” on social media one day before its release date, Feb. 5. While “Flowers for Vases” comes after her debut solo album “Petals for Armor,” Williams made it clear that the new album is not a follow-up to the debut. In a textual Instagram story post, Williams said “Flowers for Vases” is a prequel or “some sort of detour between parts one and two of Petals [for Armor].” This is Williams’ first self-written, self-performed album and was recorded in her Nashville home during the initial COVID-19 lockdown according to a promotional tweet by the singer.
“Flowers for Vases” isolates itself from Williams’ previous work with Paramore and even her debut solo album. Melodically, “Petals for Armor” contained traces of Paramore’s latest album “After Laughter” in which some of the tracks (“Pure Love” and “Taken” just to name a couple) flaunted similar synth-pop components to the 2017 Paramore album. Williams’ solo debut experimented with a wide variety of sounds that didn’t really unveil a solid theme or identity. While I enjoyed the debut, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to have kept them as separate EPs.
Williams’ latest release is stripped both melodically and emotionally. She pushes aside her signature vocal and instrumental radiance and winds down to a softness that is sorrowful yet comforting. While she’s no stranger to exposing the most unattractive areas of her mind through music, Williams drags listeners to a new low that explores the mourning of a failed relationship. With the long-awaited realization of red flags and lingering questions of how an ex-lover is doing, Williams holds up an authentic lens to the internal battles that brew in the aftermath of a devastating breakup.
“First Thing to Go” jams right into the heartstrings as the album’s opener. Stepping into the spotlight with just an acoustic guitar and her voice, Williams somberly approaches the changes that have happened after a relationship has concluded, an ex’s voice fading from familiarity being the first of many. The still isolation is gradually interrupted by haunting vocal runs and additional accompaniment that hovers over the main attraction like a flood of memories, perhaps bringing the line “why do memories glow the way real moments don’t?” into reality. The album ventures forward through love so devout that it reaches the point of self-sacrifice (“My Limb,”) recognition of the tension and toxicity of the relationship as a result (“Trigger”) and the ongoing struggle of moving through the motions of everyday life with an extra weight on her shoulders (“Wait On”).
Two songs that stuck out to me were “Over Those Hills” and “HYD.” While both songs mirror speculating the life of an ex-partner now that they’re no longer in the picture, they express this idea in very different attitudes. “Over Those Hills” is a subtly synth-pop break from the solemn nature of the album that optimistically looks at a failed relationship, admiring both the good and bad while also wondering how her ex reflects on their past. Williams later trades in her electric guitar for an acoustic in a woeful performance of “HYD,” a tune in which she recalls the emotional conflict of a relationship that ultimately led to its downfall and ponders if the ex is in a better place, ending with the lingering question, “How you doing?”
“Flowers for Vases” displays a more vulnerable, intimate side to Williams that, compared to her previous work, has never been captured. Unlike “Petals for Armor,” this album maintains a stable, thematic base to fall back on within each song. The feeling of isolation and loneliness glide almost effortlessly throughout the album in a way that also consoles the listener. With the level flow and minimal production of each song, it feels almost as if you’re sitting with Williams in her living room.
While I have been eager for more Paramore material since the release of “After Laughter,” I can’t help but admire the passion and distinctive spirit within Williams’ solo work. I hope that she will consider revisiting solo projects like “Flowers for Vases” in the future, even if it’s just in the form of an EP or a single.
9 out of 10 Torches.
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