Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
by Ryo Miyauchi Music Pop Rocks

Hayley Williams | Petals for Armor

July 20, 2020

Petals for Amor finds Hayley Williams at her most vulnerable as a lyricist and most experimental as a musician.

If Hayley Williams intended to hide her anxieties behind the primary colors of Paramore’s After Laughter, it yielded the opposite (but nevertheless incredible pop) results. The pop-punk band’s Technicolor hues heightened the senses as much as they highlighted the irony between volatile emotion and upbeat rhythms, with Williams’ words and cadences landing with visceral impact. Another peculiar trade-off happens with the music on Petals for Armor, Williams’ first solo record since debuting with Paramore in 2005. She’s more forthcoming, allowing darker, intimate issues to emerge: “Dead Horse” opens with a candid voice message from the artist herself, who apologizes for the late response due to her depression. Despite this inclination for directness, the music somehow becomes more elusive — even when she falls back to the familiar, slick funk of her band’s latest album. Williams is more forthcoming as a lyricist here, demonstrating a better articulation of her internal conflicts, and yet, her songs are prone to wander, the footing more unsure. 

But the driftless quality Petals for Armor isn’t a result of aimlessness. The organization of the album, first packaged as a bundle of three separate EPs, imbues the record with a sense of chronology, following Williams’ pursuit of peace and situational clarity. The stylistically scattered aesthetic and sonic experimentation feels like a reflection of Williams’ struggle to find proper expression, particularly of varying shades of darkness. Her voice undergoes a number of transformations: her usual sharp, emo-influenced enunciation here loosens into a shifty murmur as it smoothly settles into the album’s liquid funk. Petals for Armor sounds like a ghostly echo of After Laughter, lacking as it does some of that record’s color and carrying forth a more introverted energy, but it’s a welcoming tone of hollowness, one that underscores Williams’ current thematic preoccupations. It’s an album that doesn’t so much aim to capture in music any immediate, all-consuming burst of anxiety, but rather one that seeks to express, in word and mood, how it feels when that unease lingers, seeping into everyday life.

Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 – Part 1.