As the leader of emo mainstay act Paramore, Hayley Williams has had a lot of assumptions and rules placed upon her by the people that consume and manage her art. In recent years, Williams has been trying to find a new place for herself in music, and her first solo album “Petals For Armor” is her boldest effort yet.
Williams has been making music since 2003, when she was just 14. Thrown into a world of major labels, she has seen a lot of rigidity that she has pushed back against. “Petals For Armor” documents her resistance to a lot of the sexism and expectations placed upon her, both lyrically and musically.
Paramore’s most recent album “After Laughter” was a drastic shift in the music that Paramore was known for, a move towards 80s influenced pop. “Petals For Armor” treads a similar path into the unknown, but takes a more experimental turn. While holding on to that pop sensibility, Williams works in musical references to Bjork, Radiohead and Talking Heads.
“Petals For Armor” was released in three parts, representing fire, earth and water. Williams uses these elements to guide the way that she writes about her growth. The album was written in the midst of intensive therapy that Williams went through after her divorce in 2017, and deals with her struggles with healthy relationships.
The first part of the album deals heavily with anger, whether that be over parental relationships, her divorce or losing loved ones. The introductory track, “Simmer,” discusses bottled up rage and finding a productive way to deal with those feelings. Throughout the rest of the album, we see Williams recount the journey to finding her peace.
“Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” is one of the most powerful moments of the album. It features indie supergroup Boygenius, who helped Williams document her coming to terms with feminism. Over this ethereal production, she sings about her newfound goal to lift other women up. On an album about growth, this is the emotional core of it.
There’s a darkness to the lyrics that’s at odds with the often exuberant tone of the music. “Dead Horse” is a prime example. The lyrics “Every morning I wake up/ From a dream of you holding me underwater/ Held my breath for a decade/ Dyed my hair blue to match my lips,” lead into an unexpectedly bouncy chorus. It’s as if she is finding euphoria in coming to terms with the experiences she writes about.
The expansion of Williams’ musical vocabulary is a massive part of what makes “Petals For Armor” so compelling. “Cinnamon” brings to mind a younger St. Vincent, with sampled vocals, distorted guitars and programmed drums. While not completely untrodden territory, it’s new for Williams and she brings a unique spark to it.
“Petals For Armor” represents an artist coming into her own in every way possible. In working through her trauma, she has opened herself up to experimentation in her expression. The musical reference points on this album are undoubtedly a little on the nose, but as Williams settles into this creative freedom, it’s exciting to see what will come next.
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