Arresting and Deeply Vulnerable, ‘Petals for Armor’ is a Resilient Exploration of Self-Care for Hayley Williams of Paramore (Listen/Review)

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Listening to Petals for Armor, the new solo album from Hayley Williams, you might forget this is the artist who rose to fame as the lead singer for pop/punk/alt-rock band Paramore.

That’s how deep and layered this record is, a 15-song collection that marks her first official album as a solo artist. Produced by Williams and her Paramore band mate Taylor York, the sheer depth of this record is quite astounding, honestly, in terms of the variety of sounds explored throughout.

Split into three five-song sections, Petals for Armor presents three sets of themes: rage/anger, earth/vibrancy and love/rebirth, and in that sense it’s very much a concept record.

At the heart of Petals for Armor is vulnerability. Pure, raw, messy vulnerability, the product of years of turmoil within Paramore and outside the band, as Williams dealt with a short-lived marriage to Chad Gilbert, guitarist of New Found Glory. The tumult led to a bout with deep depression, which Williams opened up about with Vulture:

I felt scared to talk about depression for a long time. When I wrote that, I hadn’t been diagnosed. I’m a smart enough person. I can think through what I’m going through even when I’m really down on myself. A lot of people with anxiety or depression are intellectual and can understand, but it’s bigger than that. It’s a chemical problem. I was realizing how out of my control it was. It mattered to talk about it. Getting that down in front of me was a turning point.

In that sense, Petals for Armor is a powerful message of resilience. “Simmer,” a single from the record, features lyrics that sum up its magnetic pull, a darkness residing just under the surface:

Rage is a quiet thing
Ooh, you think that you’ve tamed it
But it’s just lying in wait

“Cinnamon,” meanwhile, is an eccentric bit of indie/pop reminiscent of St. Vincent or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, its music video expressing the song’s themes in visual form:

A thought that pops up at various points on the record: it’s surprising to find that there were no outside producers involved. This is a fully personal musical statement from Williams, showcasing her inspiration and creativity, manifested in ways she presumably never felt comfortable exploring with Paramore.

Take “Over Yet” for example. This sounds like it’s taken straight out of 1986, meant in the best way possible.

“Dead Horse” is also a standout, its rhythmic pull masking some rather pointed lyrics regarding her personal issues of the past few years:

I beat it like a dead horse, I beat it like a drum
Oh, I stayed with you too long
Skipping like a record, but I sang along
To a silly little song
I said I beat it like a dead horse, I beat it like a drum
Oh, I stayed with you too long
Skipping like a record, but I sang along
To your shitty little song

(While on the topic of self-care, Williams premiered a few videos on YouTube with Spotify under the title “Watch me While I Self-Care.” One of the clips is an acoustic performance of “Dead Horse.”)

Boygenius, a.k.a. Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, pop up on the song “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris,” for good measure.

The final third of the album is when you’ll land on “Watch Me While I Bloom,” another floral reference among the many on the LP. This one is especially funky, Williams singing of being “alive in spite of me” and ready to take on whatever comes her way:

By the time of the album’s final track, “Crystal Clear,” Williams sounds rejuvenated by the whole experience:

I wanna make it crystal clear
That I won’t give in to the fear

Petals for Armor is a eye-opening accomplishment from Hayley Williams. She’s emerged from the darkness of the past few years stronger than ever, and it will be very exciting to see where her career goes from here.

 

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