Review by Camille Germain
Hayley Williams. Hayley. Fucking. Williams. A powerhouse who needs no introduction and has grown in front of our eyes for the past 15 or so years, has come back with some very new music. And she did not hold back. Williams released the first two songs of her upcoming album a week apart from one another. Announced barely a month ago and without a drawn out release, we had no time to guess or prepare for what she was working on.
I did not expect... so much. So much power. So much emotion. So much art. Who would have thought that five songs could cover such range and sound, but these do. You would think that a collection of songs that all sound very different in style would not go together, but Petals for Armor I does. It is a project that has an ongoing story. A journey. From killer bass riffs, to lyrics that sting, to a beat that makes you move, and vocals that keep you on your toes, you have the new and reborn Hayley Williams.
First we got “Simmer,” where we got the hint: Hayley Williams isn't playing nice anymore. And it is glorious. In this song, Williams introduces the project title of Petals for Armor I by singing Wrap yourself in petals/Petals for armor. This idea of wrapping oneself in petals amidst so much rage seems like a way to bring back softness, to not let the rage take over. Throughout the song she puts herself into the eyes of a mother, as if she wants to go back and protect her younger self. And damn is she brutal. If my child needed protection/from a fucker like that man/I’d sooner gut him/‘Cause nothing cuts like a mother - given control. We got to see a dark side and new style of the alt-pop icon.
“Simmer” has a fucking raw video with it. And an interlude. Working alongside Lindsey Byrnes, they have created a video that haunts and gets your blood pumping. Byrnes is not just some random person who worked with Williams on this, she is a good friend of hers and an extremely talented photographer and all around creative. Lindsey Byrnes is a powerhouse in her own right and is seen constantly supporting her friend and doing her photographs and so much more. She is one of the many names created in Williams’ new work, which also includes her long time friend and bandmate Taylor York as co-writer and producer. You see this threaded throughout the entire project. Williams never hesitates to share the light on her talented friends and gives the credit deserved. Art isn’t just having fame and your name to it, it is also the experience and relationships that make it worth it. This project is definitely very very Hayley Williams, but it is also about community and friendship.
Williams plays with a lot of effects and it might not be for everyone. But if I had to choose one word to describe this album, it would be inspired. First, “inspired” would describe the work as a whole, and secondly it would describe how you feel after you finish the five songs. She worked with a lot of people to bring this to life, but all artists do. It is her ability to work with others and give them recognition as well that I respect. This work is something that needs to be looked at by itself. It is new and should only have itself to be reflected on.
Both “Simmer” and “Leave it Alone” have hints of Alt-J aspects threaded throughout by her use of simple, yet intense, electronic manipulations on the instrumental and vocal parts, which combined with Williams' newly softened voice, makes for haunting and smooth songs. She is brutally honest and touches subjects and ideas that we can all relate to (or empathize), such as the end of relationships, finding yourself, and many others. And damn she is doing some incredible things with her voice that really separates these releases from anything she has ever done. You can dance and sway to the words smoothly. These are songs that you can feel when you close your eyes while in an ambient-lit room and feel your skin move with each beat.
Stepping away from the more electronic sound of “Simmer," “Leave it Alone” is very reminiscent of a 90s dream pop song doused with Beth Orton vocals and instrumentation, more specifically the song “She Cries Your Name," and then you add a splash of blues/folk riffs. It is Hayley Williams’ iconic voice, but softened. “Leave it Alone” focuses on the anxiety felt around death and growing older. She sings, Now that I finally wanna live, the ones I love are dying.
After “Leave it Alone” we get a more funky, beat-driven song called “Cinnamon” with a video to match it. This song reflects a continuation of the journey that Williams is taking us on. First we have the rage, then the anxiety, now reflection and acceptance. On the walls/of my home/there are signs that I’m alone/I keep on every light/talk to my dog/he don’t mind. These lyrics explore that she has become self-aware, but as the song progresses, she becomes okay with it when she sings I’m not lonely/I am free/but if I let you in/you would never wanna leave.
The three videos released before the rest of the songs were "Simmer," "Leave it Alone," and "Cinnamon," tell a chronological anecdote. But after this three-part series on how to heal, things get weirder. We get the last two songs of Petals for Armor I “Creep’n” and “Sudden Desire” which are serious jams. “Creep’n'' starts off slow and soft with Batty pair of eyes, creep’n/aiming like a laser pointer/poor little vampire baby/we bleed like holy water. Then the funk and altered voice drop loudly, Why you creep’n around here? which becomes the mantra of the whole song. It is a short song that jumps. It reflects that Williams accepts her dark side and those who relate. That she is more home here in this weird, dark universe than others expect where she acknowledges obsession completely. You had a taste but you don't want to forget it/Oh, just keep on suckin' on the memory of him.
After that quick glimpse of her obsession with “Creep’n” she goes straight into a very dance-pop style with “Sudden Desire." Williams ends the first part of the album with a burst of pop. This song brings out the sexual confidence as the apex of the Part I of Petals for Armor, delivering no apologies and a “hell yeah!” cry from listeners. Williams starts the song off with I wanted him to kiss me how/With open mouth and open mouth/We keep our distance now/I wanna feel his hands go down. This song is not only about some sort of sexual wakens, but also seems to be about learning to just let moments be moments and that we can only change so much. It’s as if she is telling us, "you can enjoy things and still want them, but you don’t have to let it be so complex that it destroys you: can you just enjoy it." That does not mean you aren’t hurt or feel emotion, but embrace your desire for what it is. Just enjoy it and dance. This song is a great finale to the first part of this album.
Petals for Armor I comes out on May 8, 2020. As we wait for the complete album, we have Petals for Armor I to listen to on repeat with two new releases, where Williams continues to demonstrate her ability to work with others and capture emotional nuance through sound and theme. With what we have so far, I cannot wait to see the rest of this story/journey. It's hard to put yourself out there, especially when you've been in the worlds' eyes for such a long time a certain way. Breaking out is hard. But she's done it and deserves all the love. Before the release I had no idea what I expected to hear/see, but I hoped it would not be a solo version of Paramore. And it definitely is not. It stands alone.