Hayley Williams lets her softer side shine on Flowers for Vases / Descansos
Over the years, Hayley Williams has found herself at odds with balancing toughness and softness. Petals for Armor, her 2020 solo debut, tackled that sentiment head on. Steeped in anger, resilience, and joy, the synth-heavy record dissected Williams' empowering journey to peace after undergoing intensive therapy and a split from her husband.
Almost seven months since its release, the 32-year-old Paramore singer has returned with a new solo project, Flowers for Vases / Descansos. It's a stark departure from Williams' art-pop debut. Whereas Petals' "Simmer" and "Cinnamon" touted delicate vocals and raucous choruses, her latest removes the noise, as Williams grapples with the pain that's been lying in wait — that of isolation and sitting with the parts of yourself you've been avoiding.
Vulnerability isn't new for Williams, but unlike Petals' raw rage and liberation, Flowers puts a lens on her weaker moments without any performative brightness. She simply lets her softer side shine. Gone are the animalistic vocals, replaced with a gentler tone that invokes a towering kindness and grace that pandemic-related solitude has allowed. It's a relatable feeling after a year in a remote world, the idea that buried emotions have surfaced and forced a period of reflection. Though this isolation was perhaps unwanted, Williams shows it wasn't unnecessary, using the excavation of pain to make room for new growth.
Opener "First Thing to Go" somberly meditates on the inherent loneliness that comes post-breakup, as her vocals trail off into the ether. On the stunning "Good Grief," Williams clings to the past, reliving the devastating anguish following the end of a relationship and the choice she made to leave. "HYD" sees her wondering how an ex is doing just to feel like a part of their life again: "And you would always start my cigarette/I wonder if you ever quit/Like you wanted/I bet you did." The ethereal lullaby-like "Over Those Hills" is full of self-deprecating humor, with Williams daydreaming herself into masochism: "Almost went numb/Thought I'd had enough/But the hurt is half the fun."
Thematically, Flowers — which was written and recorded at Williams' home in Nashville — hovers over her personal struggles with codependency and PTSD. Opening with the anxious build-up of a Paramore single, "My Limb" sees the singer confronting both through gruesome imagery: "If you gotta amputate it/Don't give me the tourniquet." She further digs into these metaphors with "Asystole," named for the cessation of electrical activity from the heart. "I don't live for you/I live for me," Williams declares over sputtering keys, as if saying it out loud will make it come true. The hushed tones and quivering vocals of "Trigger" and "No Use I Just Do" harbor some of Williams' most uncomfortable moments: The lies we tell ourselves to ease pain. Then there's Williams' hope for change after recognizing her destructive pattern of behavior, on "Wait On." "I don't want to wait on you/But it's just what I keep doing," she laments over twinkling chords.
As with Petals, Flowers finds a release. Williams embodies the lush, layered harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel on "Find Me Here," a love song to herself and an empowering step into figuring out life on her own. It may have transpired from pain but she once again proves there is a fragile beauty that comes with facing the darkest parts of yourself, no matter how painful the process might be. For Williams, it's another way to move forward. B+