Hayley Williams is big time sad. Or perhaps was at some point — it’s a little bit unclear. Described by the singer herself as a prequel to or “some sort of detour between parts [one] and [two] of” her debut solo album, Petals for Armor, her second record, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, is devoid of the cathartic joy and sometimes rage that characterized its predecessor, instead reveling in the macabre and heart-wrenching feelings that occupied her mind during the dissolution of her marriage. Arriving a mere nine months after Petals, FLOWERS finds Williams at the epicenter of the destruction, showing listeners how she got to the position of contentment on her first album.
Stripped of most of the sonic flourishes found on Petals— which explored pop and rock song structures with influences of funk, electronic, and R&B — FLOWERS is a fairly bare bones affair. Performed entirely by Williams, the soundscape is dominated by acoustic guitar, but dabbles in piano (“KYRH,” “No Use I Just Do,” “Descansos”), electric guitar (“Just a Lover”), and percussion (“My Limb,” “Asystole,” “Over Those Hills”) just enough to keep listeners interested without distracting from the volatile subject matter.
The record is quite visceral in its lyrics, from its first line (“first thing to go was the sound of his voice”) to its very last (“one more ugly, stillborn cry/I know exactly what this is/or whatever it was”); the singer’s pain is equally as comforting as it is biting to whoever dares to hear it. Many passages revolve around death and decay — with only most of it metaphorical — such as “My Limb” and its plea to amputate, “Asystole” (the most fatal cardiac arrest) and “Trigger” just from there titles alone, and the disordered eating of “Good Grief.” But the most cutting track is “No Use I Just Do,” a dejected and bruised song that beautifully articulates the agony of loneliness and how everyone around you becomes a warped version of the person you desire. On Petals for Armor, Williams was capable of protecting herself from her emotions, but on FLOWERS for VASES / descansos, she is in need of a hero, and she’s no less brave for admitting so.
Standout tracks: “First Thing to Go,” “My Limb,” “Wait On,” “Just a Lover”