Many of the tracks are so fragile and skeletal they feel as though they could fold in on themselves at any moment
Hayley Williams’s debut solo album ‘Flowers For Vases / Descansos’ has been oft-compared to Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’ – including by the Paramore front-woman herself. Yet, unlike ‘Folklore’, which tells picturesque stories of fictitious characters, ‘Flowers’ feels utterly true to Williams’ herself. The closest album it could be compared to is Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher’ – down to the way it’s final song offers a slowly-intensifying, even chaotic, cathartic finish to an otherwise low-tempo album. Yet, comparing this album to any other feels reductive; ‘Flowers’ – with it’s disarming honesty – is so obviously William’s – and Williams’s alone.
On her sophomore solo album, Williams abandons the poppier sound of Paramore’s latest LP ‘After Laughter’ and ‘Petals For Armor’s’ livelier synth-pop sound to the point where many of the tracks are so fragile and skeletal they feel as though they could fold in on themselves at any moment. Opener ‘First Thing To Go’ is a perfect example of this; aided by little more than a slowly-picked guitar, Williams extends her notes until her voice breaks mid-sentence. The sparse instrumentation pulls listeners focus purely to the lyrics of the song; which document the painfully slow process of gradually forgetting someone you used to love (“First thing to go was the sound of his voice”).
The stripped-back, bare-bones nature of ‘Flowers’ allows Williams to explore new genres and styles in a way that one could never imagine happening on a Paramore album. On ‘Flowers’, Williams ventures further into the territory of folk than she has at any other point of career – like on ‘Wait On’; a twangy, understated tracks that uses metaphors of nature to tell tales of resilience (“The sky will wake up every morning / And sometimes it feels the need to pour out / All the feelings it’s been holding / But either way, it never comes down”).
‘Flowers For Vases / Descansos’ still has a handful of poppier, more radio-friendly tunes for listeners who were seeking that – ‘My Limb’ feels like it could have easily fitted on ‘Petals For Armor’, while ‘Over Those Hills’ masterfully deploys an electric guitar solo that disguises the deep sense of longing present in it’s lyrics.
On first listen, the more understated tunes on ‘Flowers’ can easily blend together into a pleasant blur, yet listen closely and each harbours an emotional truth so compellingly told that it gives the track a unique, unforgettable identity of it’s own. ‘Good Grief’ – where Williams sings “Took two months to pack up your things / But I left a box at your parents’ house” – is a great example of this, as is ‘Inordinary’; one of the album’s most affecting songs, which traces back Williams “inordinary” life – from being a child who moved out-of-the-blue to Tennessee with her mother to performing live at the tender age of 16. On the track, she sings of missing the innocence of childhood (“I wish that feeling stuck around”) with the bittersweet, nostalgic sentiment that will be instantly relatable to anyone who’s found themselves increasingly worn down by reality with every passing year of adulthood.
Tracks like this paint – in pain-staking detail – imagery of bliss only to knock it down and despair over what remains; giving the songs an emotional heft not seen in any of William’s previous work. At other times, however, Williams ditches the scene-setting to plainly state her feelings of longing and despair (“If I just wanted someone to hold / Then really, anyone would do / I close my eyes and really try / Not to turn ‘em into you / It’s no use, I just love you”). The end result is equally harrowing.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, ‘Flowers For Vases’ most haunting song is actually one with no words at all. ‘Descansos’ – named after the roadside memorials laid to those who lost their lives in car accidents – is a two-minute, largely-instrumental track that is simultaneously nightmareish and breath-takingly stunning in equal measure. Over a slow piano instrumental, Williams can be heard lightly cooing in between sounds of excited, yet unintelligible baby-talk. Perhaps by mistake or maybe by design, the song mimics the fast-recall of memories that are said to play in the moments before one’s death and, the gentle, yet pained, murmurs of Williams mirror that of someone who’s reached their limit. Despite it’s short-length and lack of lyrics, the song is almost debilitatingly heart-breaking. Like the other standouts on ‘Flowers’ it showcases that Williams understands more than she has at any other point in her career that less is often more. ‘Petals For Armor’ was a great addition to Williams’ discography, but it is ‘Flowers For Vases / Descansos’ that really demonstrates how vital Williams’ work as a soloist is.
Best Tracks: Trigger, Over Those Hills, Good Grief, Wait On, Inordinary, HYD, No Use I Just Do, Descansos