Hayley Williams’ surprise new album ‘FLOWERS for VASES / descansos’ is here (review)
Had the world not been plagued by a pandemic, Hayley Williams would have spent 2020 on tour supporting her debut solo album Petals For Armor (one of the year's best), but instead she -- like many of us -- ended up with a lot of extra time at home. She used that extra time for music, recording stripped-down acoustic performances that resulted in her "Self-Serenades" series on Instagram and the eventual Petals For Armor: Self-Serenades EP, featuring acoustic versions of two Petals For Armor songs and one new song, but what she kept under wraps is that she also used that time to record an entirely new album, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, which has just been surprise-released. "This isn’t really a follow-up to Petals For Armor," Hayley says. "If anything, it’s a prequel, or some sort of detour between parts 1 and 2 of Petals."
While Petals For Armor is an ambitious art pop album that finds Hayley experimenting with everything from synthpop to dream pop to R&B to psychedelia to '80s dance-pop and beyond, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos more closely resembles Self-Serenades. Hayley recorded it at home, and it's mostly made up of quiet songs that are based around little more than a piano and/or acoustic guitar and Hayley's voice (though there are a few bigger-sounding moments, like the explosive rock at the end of album closer "Just A Lover"). With Hayley having played everything herself, it's a more literal "solo album" than Petals For Armor, and Hayley sounds just as commanding with these somber songs as she does when she's fronting Paramore.
FLOWERS for VASES / descansos not only sounds entirely different than Petals For Armor, it had the total opposite rollout. The songs on Petals For Armor were gradually released over a period of five months, but this time Hayley put the whole thing out at once with no singles and no prior announcement. (It does, however, include "Find Me Here" which appeared in a rawer, shorter form on the Self-Serenades EP, as well as the "leaked" song "My Limb.") The surprise release is a good fit for FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, which focuses on a more unifying sound and theme than Petals For Armor. Descansos are symbols that mark death, like roadside memorials, and death and loss come up again and again throughout this album.
"The meaning of the album as a whole is maybe entirely different from diving into each song in particular," Hayley said. "For me, there’s no better way to tackle these individual subjects other than holistically. The ways I’ve been given time (forcibly, really) to stew on certain pains long enough to understand that they in fact, need to be released…indefinitely. I may never have been offered such a kindness; an opportunity to tend to the seeds I’d planted, to harvest, and to weed or prune what is no longer alive, in order to make space for the living. I wrote and performed this album in its entirety. That’s a career first for me."
It is indeed a record that's most effective when taken as a whole, but it does have some clear standouts. "Trigger," "Inordinary," and "No Use I Just Do" already feel like some of the most melodically and emotionally powerful songs that Hayley has written yet, and it seems like the kind of album where more and more highlights will reveal themselves over time.
FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is out now via Atlantic. Stream it below...