Throughout the past year, a multitude of artists have utilized social distancing and isolation to further pursue their creative outlets (see: Taylor Swift’s folklore and evermore). The latest illustration of a quarantine album occurred when Paramore lead singer Hayley Williams surprised the world last week with the release of her second solo album, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos. Although Flowers is the successor to Williams’ debut solo album Petals for Armor, Williams has stated that “it’s a prequel or some sort of detour between parts one and two” of Petals. This album is uniquely self-made as Williams wrote all of the lyrics, recorded all of the vocals, and performed all of the instruments by herself in her Nashville home. Flowers is by far one of the most experimental directions that Williams has gone in with her music throughout the entirety of her career — and it’s some of her best artistry to date.
The concept behind this album revolves around the idea of memorializing moments in one’s past and Williams does so with lyrics that evoke imagery of mournful grief. “First Thing To Go” is the opening song on the record and it certainly sets a precedent with lyrics like, “Why do memories glow the way real moments don’t? / My altar is full of our love’s delusions.” Then there are songs like “My Limb,” “Asystole,” “Trigger,” and “Good Grief,” which touch on elements of toxic relationships that need to be left behind. Williams is not running away from these negative moments within her past; instead, she’s facing her demons and coming to terms with them before leaving them to finally rest. With folksy instrumentals supporting her striking vocals and heartrending lyrical portraits (“Truth is, all I really want is somebody who wants me / Somebody I can count on who won’t disappoint me”), the composition of this album conveys a womxn unraveling the innermost parts of herself in order to acknowledge and move on from them.
As the album develops, Williams touches on an even wider array of experiences that have shaped her to become the person she is today. “Inordinary” is an incredibly personal narrative about events she experienced growing up, whilst “No Use I Just Do” and “Find Me Here” provide some of her most delicate tales of love and vulnerability. The track “Descansos” (a title inspired by roadside memorials) is a gorgeous instrumental track that features an overlay of audios from childhood home videos. Each song holds a solid, worthy place on Flowers, and it’s clear that Williams dedicated herself to constructing a record in which every track is genuinely essential.
Flowers comes to a close with “Just A Lover,” which is currently my personal favorite track on the album. The song begins softly with Williams’ warm vocals placed at the forefront of the light beat. There is a drastic change in the instrumentals once the second half of the song hits and suddenly it’s as if you’re transported into the rock roots that Williams has been a part of since the founding of Paramore. It’s an outro that sends you running back to immediately play the entire album all over again purely to experience the musical paradise that Williams has crafted from start to finish. Moreover, the ending of Flowers certainly makes listeners reflect on the ways in which this record must’ve been incredibly therapeutic for Williams to make on her own. This album isn’t just “music for the masses.” She might have bestowed this album to the world for anyone to listen to, but it’s a complex piece of emotional acceptance that Williams made wholly for herself.
While both of Williams’ albums veer into the charged realms of raw emotions and unrelenting honesty, the two should not be compared. Petals provided listeners with complex narratives and intimate looks at what Williams has experienced; however, Flowers looks farther inward. It’s as if the depths of her soul are being laid bare throughout the many layers of vocals and instruments. The two LPs live on opposite sides of the same coin as they simultaneously maintain a sense of unapologetic authenticity whilst being stark enough to not be exact duplicates of each other.
I wrote an article last year about how Petals for Armor proved that Williams is blooming. Flowers for Vases further illustrates that she’s still cultivating a journey toward healing as she puts her past to a peaceful repose. If the botanical metaphors that Williams uses have taught me anything, it’s that we shouldn’t feel ashamed when any of our petals have wilted. We should embrace those past pieces of ourselves before laying them to rest, planting new seeds, and starting anew. It’s never too late to bloom again; we just have to accept the weeds that have sprouted in our gardens before we can truly grow in spite of them.