Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams stunned and electrified the world when this past January she hinted at the release of some solo material. Expectant fans presumed perhaps a single or two may come their way, only to be met with half an album and multiple music videos to accompany Hayley’s solo venture, Petals for Armor. It’s been quite a unique release strategy. With a release date for the full album set for May 8, the first half arrived this month, including previous singles Simmer and Leave It Alone as well as three new tracks, Creepin, Sudden Desire and Cinnamon.
“Rage is a quiet thing,” opens this new record, a statement so powerful that it takes several listens to really feel the impact of Williams’ poetry. Simmer was a brave and exceptional introduction to Hayley Williams, the individual. With lyrics like, “and if my child needed protection from a fucker like that man/ I’d sooner gut him/ Because nothing cuts like a mother,” it was hard not to feel uncontainable excitement, and impossible not to be in some way moved by what the singer had crafted.
It’s a step away from what feels at times like a sugar coated version of the truth we hear in Paramore, and a step toward authenticity and vulnerability – a central theme of the record and project as a whole. Simmer was accompanied by a dark and ominous video, directed by Warren Fu with creative direction from Lindsey Byrnes. We see William’s running through a forrest naked, only to attack a version of herself at the video’s close. Red light bleeds into the frame as she melts into the driving groove beneath her, a muddy guitar riff carries through the chorus with layers of Hayley’s vocals phasing in and out, sometimes speaking words, sometimes just using her breath as a percussive device, or a moan like hum to elevate the second verse.
This kind of production is present throughout all five tracks thanks to Taylor York (lead guitarist of Paramore) who is credited as producer for the entire record. A precedent is set and followed, the EP a cohesive and well designed world; as if we’re afforded insight into a new crevice of Hayley’s mind, one we’ve never known existed before. It’s invigorating to experience, and with each new track we see a story unfolding.
Leave It Alone tackles grief and an unshakable fear of death, in whatever form that may be. Melodically experimental and heavily influenced by R&B vocalists such as Solange and SZA, Hayley carves a unique sound for herself. Cinnamon feels like a new universe entirely – one where Hayley doesn’t give a fuck, at all. The song itself is structurally and sonically flawless. Drums by Aaron Steele (who plays on the entire record) are bouncy and jarring, effortlessly flowing into a disco-like beat as Hayley’s vocals (and Hayley herself, in the music video) dance along the top: “I’m not lonely, baby/ I am free/ Finally.”
Creepin’ is a subtle and nuanced moment on the record. The sound of rain falls as Hayley’s voice is dragged down several octaves and she bemoans, “Why you creepin’ round here?” It’s fun and brooding, setting you a little on edge as the chorus softly places itself atop you. “Just keep on sucking on the memory of him” is a nod to her recent divorce, a topic that is threaded neatly throughout these tracks, something she never covered as honestly on previous Paramore record, After Laughter.
Sudden Desire is the closer for now, a track with no pattern or bounds. Cyclical, taunting and thoroughly unhinged despite its restraint in places, this song is a blend of heavy alt-rock influences and experimental riffs and grooves. Intangible dynamics that sway and drop without a moment’s warning, an explosive chorus (“don’t know if I can deny a sudden desire”) and an emotional, seductive intro and outro (“I wanted him to kiss me how/ With open mouth/ An open mouth we keep our distance now/ I wanna feel his hands go down.”
Simultaneously broken and healing, in control and yielding to another, Petals For Armor I is a work of art. It’s a brutally honest memoir, yet a narrative only halfway told.