Hayley Williams, "Flowers for Vases/Descansos" (Atlantic)
The pandemic has fostered music of solitude and self-reliance. As singer and central songwriter of Paramore, the popular punk-pop band she formed as a teenager in 2004, Williams insisted that she had no interest in making a solo album. But her new, surprise-released record is her second solo effort in less than a year, and it's more solo than ever.
"Flowers for Vases" was entirely written and performed by Williams at her home studio. Separation and loneliness suffuse the songs, as she contemplates the aftermath of a breakup, surveying memories and what-ifs, regrets and accusations and, especially, the ways attachment can linger. In 2017, Williams split with Chad Gilbert of the band New Found Glory after a nearly decadelong relationship.
"I'm scared to lose what's left of you," she sings in "First Thing to Go," wistfully adding, "I just finish my own sentences the way you used to." In "No Use I Just Do" she struggles with longings she'd rather push away. And in "Good Grief," she sings, "Pretty sure you don't miss the way I put all my demons on display / To your pretty music."
Williams recorded her first solo album, "Petals for Armor" from 2020, before the pandemic, working with Paramore guitarist Taylor York and others. They helped her decisively break free of punk-pop, as she toyed with electronics, disco beats, glossy pop, jazzy intricacies and indie-rock introspection. The album relied on her gift for melody and her careful emotional balancing: rage and self-criticism, insecurity and conviction.
"Flowers for Vases" has a narrower, quieter palette. As on Taylor Swift's 2020 quarantine albums, "Folklore" and "Evermore," many of the songs have a folky acoustic guitar at their core. The songs here are finely polished: Every vocal phrase, guitar tone, piano note and studio effect has been thought through.
Williams' deep uncertainty runs through the album. But at the same time, the music makes something abundantly clear: Lonely or not, she didn't need those guys.
Jon Pareles, New York Times
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