Healing is far from linear, and no one knows that better than Hayley Williams. Her new album, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, reveals the pain that once influenced her life, painting an image of a dead garden suffocated by weeds not yet ready to be planted, let alone bloom.
FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is the sophomore solo album by singer-songwriter and Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams. Released on Feb. 5, the album comes a little less than a year after her critically-acclaimed debut solo album Petals for Armor.
Taking to Instagram a day before the album’s release, Williams candidly announced her surprise album, even requesting a fan to leak a copy of “My Limb” online, and described it as a prequel or detour between parts one and two of Petals for Armor. As such, this album serves as an ode to the suffering that precluded Petals for Armor’s arc of self-discovery.
Williams wrote, performed, and recorded this album's entirety in her Nashville home, unable to escape her past emotional wreckage. She has forgone further pop experimentation and instead clings to a raw recitation of profound, suffocating sadness.
The sound is unlike anything Williams has released before, a soft alternative folk that invites us in in a way that feels forbidden. Similar to the feeling of reading your sibling’s diary or a text message that was not meant for you, the 14 tracks feel like a peek into the rambling mind of a woman who is comfortable being transparent about her vulnerabilities.
FLOWERS for VASES / descansos deconstructs Williams’ loneliest feelings and exposes her darkest memories through a heavy dose of acoustic compositions, melancholy piano melodies, well-placed electric guitar flourishes and gut-wrenching lyrics. And her voice once again takes center stage, intertwined within the record’s pensive compositions, varying from barely a whisper to a simmering rage to even a delicate, folk-tinged murmur.
Williams begins her journey by crooning on the impassioned opener “First Thing To Go,” a chilling, skeletal recounting of a lost love fading out of memory. An opener that brilliantly sets a raw and real stage for the rest of the album and distinctly links the project to its origins of pandemic isolation.
She then begins to mourn; “Shy little rabbit, teething on a shotgun / Guess we were collateral damage, kissing in the crossfire” on “My Limb,” the album’s stormiest track, which likens her attachment to an old lover as a physical tethering.
Sticking with the visceral metaphor, on “Asystole,” Williams’ wispy voice confesses how she is unable to will herself beyond old romance. The antithesis of its medical definition, a serious and irreversible heart attack, the song leaves listeners thinking it’s over before pulling them back in with a resurgent Latin-inspired guitar line.
Even from these first three tracks, it is clear that although Williams plays every instrument on the album, which certainly adds to its sincerity, her devastating lyricism is the album’s grandest feat.
There is no exact resolution for Williams' sorrows. If anything, the worry for Williams’ well-being only builds as the record rolls on. Sure, her writing for Paramore has always been melancholic, especially regarding relationships. But this project appears desperate.
On “Good Grief,” perhaps the most telling revisitation of her lowest moments, it gets downright scary with “Haven’t eaten in three weeks / Skin and bones when you’re not near me / I’m all skeleton and melody.”
Deviating from optimism almost altogether, Williams continues the second half of the album with a three-track run of bare flesh and bones, pure stripped-down emotion. “Inordinary,” “HYD” and “No Use I Just Do” are diary entries coming to life — no glitz, glamor or synthetics to mask their candor. An earnest and bold show of unprettiness by Williams.
Finally, “Just A Lover” creeps up gently and inconspicuously — ending Williams’ emotional journey with a bang feeling of reminiscence. A fitting, somber lullaby during these stay-at-home times. So with a swell of emotion, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is a wrap.
In the end, the 32 year old is hopelessly set adrift between shores. At one edge, the luring memories of lost love, moments both soul-affirming and earth-shattering from which she cannot entirely escape. At the other, forgiveness, catharsis and moving on — none of which she can seem to firmly grasp. Thus, back and forth she floats.
With exposed personal lyrics, a new, more ethereal sound, and layered, enveloping vocals, Williams is embracing sadness and the unknown in her life more than ever before. The overarching message? It’s okay to be sad. You’re allowed to hold onto things that aren’t good for you. We all heal differently.
This 14-track postmortem adds another chapter of honest reflection to Williams’ ever-growing repertoire, laying her past demons to rest. With simple folk melodies and dreamy edges, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is the quietest and most intimate recordings of Williams’ career so far.