Hayley Williams has done the one thing she always swore she didn’t plan to do: write a solo album. Released via Atlantic Records, the same label that’s backed Williams since she was first signed by them at fourteen, on Petals for Amor Williams worked with her long time and key collaborator in Paramore Taylor York, who produced the entire album, as well as fellow Paramore members Joey Williams and Zac Farro. In that sense, Williams made the album together with her self-proclaimed “chosen family” which is most likely the reason behind the album’s organic yet confident sound. It’s clear however that with her own name comes new territory. The album is a distinctly different project to her former work in terms of both sonic and visual design. On Petals For Armor Williams opens up about her mental health publicly, which she has only recently begun to do in a few select interviews, and embraces “the full spectrum” of her femininity in a way she actively resisted doing previously as the only female member of Paramore, for various reasons, most notably wanting to be regarded (and respected) in the same way as her male bandmates.
After listening to Petals for Armor in full, it’s clear that the profoundly contrasting imagery in the album’s title is more than just a good turn of phrase. Flowers, often associated with femininity and thus, sexistly, with fragility, are the lyrical thread that ties this fairly genre-varied album together. Williams exploits this typically feminine imagery to create an album about her journey towards accepting her emotional vulnerability as a strength, and embracing her femininity. Having been sexistly demonised by the press and portrayed as the controlling woman at the head of an otherwise all-male band, Petals for Armor sees Williams step willingly into a safe feminine space. Which is exemplified on track ‘Cinnamon’ where she sings “home is where I’m feminine//smells like citrus and cinnamon.” It’s also a space for some seriously raw honesty: ‘Dead Horse’ begins with a sampled voice recording of Williams saying “it’s took me three days to send you this […] sorry [soft laughter], I was in a depression.”
Yet while the album is an ode to darker times and personal growth, it’s ultimately a very upbeat record with bass heavy, dancier tracks such as ‘Sudden Desire’ and heady single ‘Simmer’, as well as synth-soaked pop anthems like ‘Pure Love’ and ‘Sugar on the Rim’, which are both fuelled by funk basslines. Williams impressively manages to explore complex and deeply personal themes through a range of sounds on the album and it’s clear she has no intention of limiting herself to one particular style. Her outstanding vocal character proves itself to be her main strength on the album’s slower tracks such as orchestral slowburner ‘Leave It Alone’ and ‘Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris’ on which boygenius (Phoebe Bridgers, Julian Baker, Lucy Dacus) provide the backing vocals. Simultaneously, she’s completely unafraid to totally distort her voice on more experimental tracks such as ‘Creepin’’.
Petals For Armor marks Williams maturing both lyrically and sonically. One of the final tracks on the album ‘Watch Me While I Bloom’ can be interpreted as a tongue-in-cheek dare: Williams’ femininity will no longer be used against her, but will be the fertile foundation from which she grows into a stronger artist than ever.
Buy: Petals for Armor
Photo credit: Lindsey Byrnes