As we approach the 15th anniversary of Paramore's debut, this edition of In Defense of the Genre looks at their full studio discography and how they evolved and transcended their emo/pop punk roots like few others.
Hayley Williams released her first-ever solo album with the excellent Petals For Armor earlier this year, and because of the pandemic, she pushed her solo tour back to 2021, so we know Hayley's dedicating at least the next two years to her solo career, but Paramore is definitely not done. Hayley and guitarist Taylor York told NME that Paramore have a new album in the works, and that it finds them returning to the music they were inspired by when the band was starting out. As for exactly what that meant, she clarified in a tweet, "We never believed we were pop-punk in the first place. We are just Paramore. So there’s nothing to return to... except for the studio, when we’re ready." She then shared this playlist of some of those older faves including songs by Trail of Dead, Failure, Hum, Sunny Day Real Estate, Death Cab, Filter, Elliott Smith, Sparta, Jimmy Eat World, Far, and more:
The idea of a new Paramore album is very exciting, but since it might be a while, and since it feels like we're at a crossroads in Paramore's career, now seems like a good time to look back on all the music they've released so far. Paramore have evolved like few other bands who started out in the mid 2000s Warped Tour scene; each album has been a clear progression from the one before it, and sometimes -- as in the case of their career-best 2017 album After Laughter -- those progressions were pretty drastic. They've proven to have serious longevity, and despite it being 15 years since their debut album (it actually turns 15 this month, on July 26), Paramore still have that same hunger that new bands have. That "there’s nothing to return to... except for the studio" attitude keeps them sounding fresh with each new album. I already can't wait to hear what they do next.
Paramore's constant evolution has helped them continue to gain new fans, so if you're new to the band, or just never dove deep into their discography, or just feel like diving back in, I've put together this guide to Paramore's five studio albums and their one proper EP. The list is presented in chronological order and is unranked. Each album is worthy for its own reasons; if you haven't already, I recommend spending time with each one.
Read on for the list...
All We Know Is Falling (2005)
Paramore's debut album hit in July of 2005, the video for lead single "Pressure" landed shortly afterwards, and Paramore were instantly the talk of the pop punk/emo scene. Bands who had helped pave the way for them like blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, and Fall Out Boy had all put out rougher material early on before arriving at the sounds they're best known for, but Paramore -- who were still in their teens at the time -- knocked it out of the park on the first swing. It only took a few seconds into “Pressure” for it to become clear that Paramore were a force to be reckoned with. An ultra-catchy guitar riff kicks things off, Zac Farro comes barging in with one of his many airtight drum fills, and the song shoots off into pop punk bliss. Things only get better when Hayley introduces the world to her now-iconic voice, and the song levels up once again when it explodes into its floor-shaking, half-time chorus. Hayley's powerhouse hook is undeniable, and when guitarist Josh Farro throws in that little major seventh bend, you really hear how Paramore were pulling from spacier post-hardcore early on and not just straight-up pop punk.
"Pressure" would've been enough on its own to make Paramore the Warped Tour/Hot Topic scene's new buzz band, but All We Know Is Falling didn't stop there. It birthed two more scene-dominating singles ("Emergency" and "All We Know") and the remaining seven songs were nothing to scoff at either. It's one of those solid ten-song albums where the whole thing just rocks from start to finish with no filler in sight. They change it up just enough to keep things interesting -- from the driving pop punk of the singles to the balladry of the last three songs, and some cool in-between stuff like the mid-tempo "Brighter" and the half dancey, half spacey "Here We Go Again" -- but they also stick to one main vibe. It's an album where if you like one song, you'll almost definitely like the rest.
Paramore did get a lot better as they went on, and because of that, the narrative that frequently surrounds their debut is that it's a promising first draft of a sound they'd perfect on its 2007 followup Riot!. It's definitely a little more straightforward than Riot!, and the production makes it sound a little more dated, but this narrative leaves out how much of an instant classic All We Know Is Falling was when it dropped in 2005, and how well these songs have aged.
The Summer Tic EP (2006)
In 2006, Paramore went on Warped Tour for the second year in the row, and this time they released an EP exclusive to their merch table on that tour. It included an alternate version of "Emergency" from All We Know Is Falling (this time with screaming by Josh Farro, who had also shown off his shriek on All We Know closer "My Heart"), a killer cover of Failure's "Stuck On You" (which is home to the lyric that the EP is named after), and two new songs: "O Star" and "This Circle." The new songs were cut from the same cloth as the slightly slower, more subtle All We Know Is Falling songs (and they were actually added to that album for its 10th anniversary vinyl reissue) and they weren't just ignorable album outtakes. They remain great, sought-after Paramore classics. The EP was also the first official release with longtime bassist Jeremy Davis, who was a founding member but briefly left the band when they made All We Know Is Falling, and "O Star" was the first song Hayley wrote with Taylor York, who collaborated and toured with Paramore early on before officially joining the band in 2009 and becoming Hayley's main songwriting partner. (And as the band proved when they did a very rare performance of "O Star" at their 2016 Parahoy! cruise, that song still has power live.) Here's to hoping these songs get a digital release one of these days!
All We Know Is Falling established Paramore as one of pop punk's great new buzz bands, but Riot! elevated them to the upper echelon of not just pop punk but alternative rock in general. It's quite possibly the greatest mainstream pop punk album of the late 2000s, and it saw Paramore significantly expanding upon the sound of their debut. The production is warmer, more timeless sounding, and gave Paramore's songs a lot more breathing room (it was handled by veteran producer David Bendeth), and the band's songwriting was a lot more varied. Riot! still has enough emo/pop punk elements to keep it rooted in that world, but it branched out into all kinds of other territory.
Riot! is a more dynamic album than its predecessor, the melodies are stronger and more unique, and the emotion in the lyrics is more palpable. The All We Know Is Falling songs have aged well, but the Riot! songs don't feel like they've aged at all. A handful of them remained live staples all the way up through the band's most recent tour, and they sounded as fresh at those shows as the much newer songs they were played alongside. Nowhere is this more true than on "That's What You Get," the album's best song and one of Paramore's best songs in general. It takes more after the pop punk-friendly alternative rock of Jimmy Eat World's Bleed American than of straight-up pop punk, and it's armed with the most purely anthemic chorus the band ever wrote. Its total catchiness is matched by subtly intricate rhythms -- it's one of many songs where Zac Farro emerges as the band's not-so-secret weapon.
"That's What You Get" is a big, bright rock song, but Riot! also succeeds for its darker and more somber sides that were only hinted at on All We Know Is Falling. The debut had nothing like the placid jangle of "When It Rains," the melancholic power balladry of "We Are Broken," or the harder, heavier rock of songs like "Let the Flames Begin," "Fences," and "Born For This" (which incorporates shouted gang vocals and a Refused interpolation). Then there's "Misery Business," which the band officially retired due to one of its controversial lyrics, but -- at least musically -- that one also marked a progression for Paramore, took them into darker and more complex musical territory, and not surprisingly became one of their biggest songs.
"Misery Business" and "That's What You Get" were always the album's two major fan faves, but its slightly more underrated hit and most interesting song is "crushcrushcrush." Paramore might've interpolated Refused on "Born For This," but they rivaled The Shape of Punk to Come's post-hardcore-fueled arena rock with "crushcrushcrush." It's the album's most drastic departure from the more straightforward All We Know Is Falling, with an experimental song structure, radical dynamic shifts, and one of Hayley's most addictive choruses wrapped in one of her most intense performances.
Brand New Eyes (2009)
The emo/pop punk/etc world was not a very lively place by 2009. A lot of the major bands had split up, were losing steam, or were going through identity crises. the Warped Tour world was embracing "crunkcore," the alternative rock mainstream was turning its attention towards more critically acclaimed indie rock bands, and the eventually-critically-acclaimed "emo revival" was still in a very early, very underground stage. But even with all the odds working against them, Paramore prevailed and churned out yet another great emo/punk-infused alternative rock record.
Paramore had been hinting at a heavier side since day one, but they came in roaring on Brand New Eyes opener "Careful," with possibly the most badass Josh Farro riff in the band's discography, and a tech-y but pummeling attack from his brother Zac to match. Zac keeps pounding his heart out once Hayley comes in with some of the most fired-up yell-singing she had put to tape yet. It's Paramore at their most furious, and when the chorus hits, they prove they hadn't lost their knack for good pop hooks. They keep things turned up to 11 on the hard rock/emo attack of second song "Ignorance," but Brand New Eyes quickly proves it can't be pigeonholed. "The Only Exception" is the best lighters-up ballad the band had written to date (and maybe ever), album closer "All I Wanted" mastered the kind of post-hardcore-informed power balladry that Paramore experimented with on the deeper cuts of their debut, and "Misguided Ghosts" is by far the most bare-bones and somber they've ever sounded. Brand New Eyes navigates plenty of the in-between too, and it fuses together the extremes of Paramore's sound even more smoothly than Riot! did. Jangly acoustic guitars, glistening arpeggios, and swaying half-time rhythms find their way into otherwise hard-hitting songs, perhaps no more effectively than on fan fave "Brick by Boring Brick," a song so uniquely Paramore that it's hard to imagine any other band writing it.
Brand New Eyes' high points aren't as high as Riot! highlights like "That's What You Get" and "crushcrushcrush," but the album was still overall a progression. Despite reportedly being recorded amidst some internal issues, the band's chemistry, precision, and confidence sound more undeniable on this album than it ever had previously. The production is even warmer and more spacious than on Riot! (this one was done with Green Day producer Rob Cavallo), the songs flow seamlessly right into each other, and despite being a couple minutes longer than Riot!, Brand New Eyes flies by in a way that feels even shorter. It also finds Hayley working a greater amount of depth and honesty into her lyrics, something that would reach even higher peaks on After Laughter and her solo album. "The Only Exception" may sound like your average love song on the surface, but revelations like "I promised I'd never sing of love if it does not exist" and "Up until now I had sworn to myself that I'm content with loneliness because none of it was ever worth the risk" prove it to be so much more. "Looking Up" addressed the band's internal issues and breakup rumors head-on, and managed to successfully toe the line between writing about band issues and writing a great song with longevity in the process. "I can't believe we almost hung it up; we're just getting started," Hayley sings. That would prove to be very, very true.
Paramore's break-up rumors never materialized, but the band did end up parting ways with the Farro brothers the year after Brand New Eyes came out, and they took a couple years to re-focus before beginning work on their self-titled album, which followed Paramore's longest gap between albums yet. Hayley said it was self-titled because "it's not only reintroducing the band to the world, but even to ourselves," and that "by the end of it, it felt like we're a new band." And they kind of were a new band. With Josh Farro out of the band, Taylor York had officially become Hayley's core writing partner (and co-producer), and this album was also the beginning of Paramore's creative partnership with producer/multi-instrumentalist Justin Meldal-Johnsen and engineer Carlos de la Garza. Meldal-Johnsen had been a studio musician for Beck and a touring musician for Nine Inch Nails before solidifying himself as an in-demand producer with his work on M83's instant-classic 2011 double album Hurry Up We're Dreaming. He and de la Garza have since helped not just Paramore but also Tegan & Sara and Jimmy Eat World reinvent themselves and breathe new life into their careers. In all three of those cases, the band in question was an emo-friendly guitar rock band looking to transcend the barriers of that genre, and in all three cases, it was a success.
With no drummer in the band, drums were handled by Ilan Rubin (who had played alongside Meldal-Johnsen in Nine Inch Nails and who had also recently joined Tom DeLonge's band Angels & Airwaves), and while Zac Farro's shoes aren't easy to fill, Ilan Rubin's drumming isn't too shabby either. Also on board was Ken Andrews (frontman of Failure, who Paramore had covered way back in 2006) to provide mixing, keyboards, and backing vocals. So the Farro brothers may have been gone, but Hayley, Taylor, and Jeremy Davis had put together a great team for this album, and they were very much able to overcome the hurdles they faced and come out with yet another great album.
Paramore wasn't the total reinvention that its followup After Laughter would be, but it helped set the tone for the leap the band would take on that album. It's sort of a transitional album in Paramore's discography, with traces of their classic sound and hints of where they'd go next. At over an hour in length, it's the longest Paramore album by far, and it's the only one where -- instead of focusing on a cohesive sound -- they decided to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. It's a freer, looser sounding album, and even more so than on Brand New Eyes, Hayley's lyrics feel deeper, more personal, and more honest. There are hints of Old Paramore on "Now," "Part II," "Be Alone," and especially "Still Into You," which is the best 2000s-style Paramore song of the 2010s, but even those songs find the band incorporating synths and dancier beats that foreshadow the new wavier sound of After Laughter. Paramore went even deeper in that direction on the very new wavey opener "Fast In My Car" and the dance-rock of "Grow Up," and then there's the gospel-inspired, stadium-sized "Ain't It Fun," the album's biggest single and the closest Paramore ever came to sounding like actual mainstream pop. Taken out of context, a cynic might've seen it as "selling out," but as track six on Paramore, it adds to the album's variety. And in hindsight, it helped set the tone for much of After Laughter and even parts of Hayley's solo album.
Paramore acts as a bridge between the band's early era and their current era, but it does a lot more than that too. It toys with ukulele indie pop on the three "Interlude" songs, channels retro balladry on "(One of Those) Crazy Girls," tips its hat to Blondie on "Daydreaming," and offers tension-building alternative rock on "Last Hope." Then there are total outliers like "Anklebiters," which injects bubblegummy jangle pop with the speed and gang vocals of classic hardcore punk in a way only Paramore could do, and album closer "Future," a nearly-eight-minute epic that fuses shoegaze and sludge metal. It's an album where truly anything goes, and it's the moment where Paramore proved that they'll always sound like Paramore, no matter what genre of music they're playing.
After Laughter (2017)
Paramore had another lineup change after the self-titled album with the departure of longtime bassist Jeremy Davis, but they also welcomed back an old member: drummer Zac Farro. Paramore survived the departure of the Farros, but as mentioned earlier, Zac was always their not-so-secret weapon, and his return for After Laughter only further confirmed that. With Taylor more settled into his role as Hayley's core collaborator, Zac back behind the kit (and now also providing co-writing, keys, and backing vocals), and a new focus on new wavey pop, Paramore made their best album yet.
If you would've told me around the time Riot! came out that Paramore were still at least a decade away from reaching their full potential, I don't know if I would've believed you, but After Laughter proved Paramore were in fact just getting started, just like Hayley sang in 2009. With After Laughter, Paramore fully transcended the Warped Tour scene, and any other scene for that matter. The album channelled '70s/'80s greats like Blondie and Fleetwood Mac as much as it channelled contemporary indie and alt-pop, but more than anything else, it just sounded like Paramore. Be it the sharp funk-punk of "Rose-Colored Boy" and "Told You So," the reggae-tinged "Caught in the Middle," the fired-up jangle of "Grudges," or the glistening dream pop of "Forgiveness," the album sounds unmistakably like Paramore. Not that Hayley wasn't already a distinct vocalist, but After Laughter cemented just how distinct she still was without a hint of emo/pop punk in sight.
Following the lengthy, anything-goes self-titled album, After Laughter found Paramore returning to a shorter and more focused album-making approach, but it's not easy to pin down what sound the album is focused on. As unique as the first three Paramore albums are, they're still pretty strongly tied to the Warped Tour emo/pop punk scene. I used "new wavey pop" to describe After Laughter above, but even that doesn't quite hit the nail on the head. These songs are all generally within that world, but they're all pretty different from one another. Sometimes they're really different, like in the case of "No Friend," which was written with and sung by mewithoutYou frontman Aaron Weiss, and finds the middle ground between that band's post-hardcore and this album's rhythmic pop. (Very few songs in general sound like it.) After Laughter is one of those albums where each song stands tall on its own, but where all 12 songs stand even taller together.
Sonically, it's the band's most original work, and it's their most lyrically triumphant as well. These are some of the happiest sounding songs the band have ever written, but lyrically the darkest, and Hayley pulls off that contrast masterfully. It's a big part of what keeps these songs sounding fresh over three years after the release. The immediacy of the shiny pop surface sucks you in right away, but the depth and darkness in the words keeps you digging for more on each listen.
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