Hayley Williams Takes Listener on Emotional Journey on ‘Petals For Armor’
Hayley Williams never intended to release a solo album. She formed Paramore as a teenager, and always wanted to write, record, and perform music as part of a band. So it was a shock when, on her birthday last December, Hayley announced she was releasing music under her own name. But as she revealed bits of her personal journey over the last few years, her decision made sense. People evolve, opinions change, and sometimes these lead to something glorious and pure. For Hayley, this is her new album, Petals For Armor.
Between January and now, Hayley has generously provided fans with a constant supply of new music. We got songs one by one, starting with the shocking “Simmer,” nearly all of them coming with a music video, lyric video, or another special video. With this drawn out album rollout, fans have had time to sit with each song and grow used to the new sounds and themes. In the end, Hayley put out two EPs – each with five songs – but saved the last five songs of the album for today.
Each of the EPs offers a distinctive style and mood. Part I takes us into the darkest territory, focusing on rage, death, loneliness, and mistakes. It’s lyrically heavy, and the music only adds to that. The songs are raw and often minimalistic, building on bass, synths, and occasionally eerie cello. It’s unlike anything we’ve heard from Paramore, and more confessional than what Hayley has written in the past.
Part II is more mixed sonically. Some of the songs sounds poppy and light, harkening back to the sound of Paramore’s most recent album, 2017’s After Laughter. They shimmer and make you sing along, but the lyrics aren’t so sweet and light. Other songs are more earthy, warm, and lived-in. They’re gentle and serene, dropping the unsettling mood from Part I. Across the whole second part, the lyrics represent a shift in mindset. You can hear growth and healing, a move towards reclaimed happiness.
Finally, we get Part III, and with it, five unheard songs. This last set of songs is the most immediate, breezy, and joyous. It sounds like the misery and recovery process have ultimately led back to love: love of others, but also love of yourself. The songs are more unexpected and surprising, pulling in new sounds and twists. While the lyrics still profess continued growth and self-care, they also indicate the light at the end of tunnel. It’s a full transformation with a sweet end.
Petals For Armor is a cohesive album, both musically and lyrically. The songs sound beautiful together, flowing easily from one track to the next while also evolving the mood. The lyrics represent a full story arc out of darkness and into light. Hayley’s emotions are laid bare, but we can all relate to them and feel her words echoing own lives. The album also takes us into new territory musically and vocally. Hayley uses her voice in new ways here, moving away from the powerful belts that define Paramore. Instead, she shows her range and depth, giving new character to these songs.
While Petals For Armor is very much a different project from Paramore and needed to be released under Hayley’s own name, it also still feels like a band album. She made it with her Paramore bandmates: Taylor York produced all the songs, and he co-wrote some, too. Hayley also wrote songs with tourist bassist Joey Howard and friends Daniel James, Steph Marziano, and Micah Tawlks. The familiarity and care truly shows here, making the album feel pure and connected.
Hayley Williams has given us a wonderful album that will likely stay with us. She’s evolved as a musician and a person, and Petals For Armor represents its own evolution. It’s a strong album that shows new sides to Hayley, and it will stand out amongst her discography, both alone and with her band.
Track by Track
Petals For Armor I
“Simmer” – The opening track was also the first song we heard from Petals For Armor. “Simmer” is a powerful start, building on subtly sinister keys, humming percussion, heaving breathing, and a suggestive sigh. It sets the tone for a very different album from anything we’ve heard by Paramore. Hayley races into uncharted territory, filled with barely-contained rage and sorrow. After a low, whispering verse about uncontainable anger, the chorus comes in with higher, chanting vocals. It ends with the refrain to “simmer simmer simmer simmer down.” On the second verse, the heavy song grows even heavier, Hayley confronting a bad man head-on and describing a child she’d protect. “Simmer” is an intense and direct song, and unlike anything we’ve heard from Paramore. It’s at once more vulnerable, raw, harrowing, and unabashed about the anger running through it.
“Leave It Alone” – The quiet rage of “Simmer” gives way to a more calming second track. “Leave It Alone” was inspired by Hayley’s grandmother, who suffered a terrible fall and resulting memory loss. The song builds up a low-key backdrop, bass guitar and sighing cello complementing Hayley’s soft vocals. In the first verse, Hayley intones, “Now that I finally want to live, the ones I love are dying.” Later, she warns, “If you know love / Best prepare to grieve.” It’s a serious and strangely soothing song, even with its unsettling music and dark themes. It’s relatable and subdued, sinking into you and staying with you.
“Cinnamon” – From here, the album picks up the pace a bit with “Cinnamon.” The track starts with prominent percussion and an unconventional sung melody, drawn out “ahhh”s made stranger with vocal effects. With drums and blips as her backdrop, Hayley sings of the emptiness in her home. She’s almost alone, apart from her dog. The eerie “ahh” serves as the first chorus, and energy builds up as we move into the second verse. The next time we hear the chorus, murmurs of “Cinnamon” fill in the extra space. A gentle bridge adds dynamism to the song, introducing higher vocals from Hayley that dominate the rest of the tune. “Cinnamon” is a bizarre song and takes some time to find its groove, but after a few listens you’ll be dancing along with the choreography in the music video.
“Creepin'” – The spooky mood returns on track four, tiptoeing in with a sound of rain. Over sparse bass, Hayley croons about poor little vampire babies. It sounds serene enough until its chorus hits. Low, distorted vocals ask, “So why you creepin’ ’round here?” as kinetic keys and guitar add texture underneath. “Creepin'” continues to evolve and add layers, and it creates a mesmerizing vibe. It’s a surprising track, and perhaps the most fun on Part I of Petals For Armor.
“Sudden Desire” – Part I ends with “Sudden Desire,” a similarly surprising song. Over dark bass and a sad, eerie soundscape, Hayley sings about wanting to kiss a man outside his house. It unexpectedly shifts into a robotic and moody chorus, but belts of “a sudden desire” in the background make it feel like the most Paramore track on the album so far. “Sudden Desire” offers up energy and dynamism, yet still within the moody scope of this first third of Petals For Armor.
Petals For Armor II
“Dead Horse” – Part II of the album almost feels like an entirely new record. The intro to “Dead Horse” – with Hayley apologizing for being “in a depression,” piano underneath – feels like a brief interlude to transition us into the second part. Then the drum beat kicks in, ushering in the most pop song on the album yet. “Dead Horse” shimmers with sweetness and layers over a funky groove, yet its lyrics are as dark as we’d expect by now. Hayley describes her decade-long relationship with ex-husband Chad Gilbert, revealing its shocking beginning and the later consequence of that. The chorus explodes into Hayley’s self-deprecation over her continued suffering within and talking about this ill-fated relationship. “Dead Horse” sounds bubbly, yet it’s confessional and raw lyrically. It could have easily fit on Paramore’s last album, After Laughter.
“My Friend” – After that upbeat bop, the switch to “My Friend” feels a bit jarring. The song introduces a low-key, earthy vibe. Although it’s raw and open like the songs on Part I, it loses that sinister undertone and sharp edges. Instead, the vibe here is warm, gentle, familiar. On “My Friend,” the lyrics take center stage, describing the little things true friends share – secrets, memories, inside jokes, teary confessions. It’s an ode to Hayley’s closest allies, her BFFs, the people who have her back. It’s a sweet love song to friends and friendship.
“Over Yet” – Switching gears again, “Over Yet” is another upbeat and fun track. It opens with a frantic energy, steampunk sounds and a quick BPM picking things up. But then, the song suddenly transitions into an ’80s dance diva chorus. It’s the most freeing song yet, and one of the most instantly gratifying songs here. Somehow, all the sad themes slip away with this refreshingly breezy tune. Although “Dead Horse” was just as poppy, this one is more freeing.
“Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” – Just as we were getting into that groove, the next track tones things down again. “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” returns to the earthy, calming sound started with “My Friend” two songs ago. This is serene and atmospheric. It feels very 1970s, and its floral imagery only solidifies that impression. “Roses” offers a great message of empowerment for women, but even so, musically it doesn’t hit as hard as the other songs. It may take more time to seep in, may need extra patience to stand out from the rest.
“Why We Ever” – A natural transition from “Roses” takes us to “Why We Ever,” the last track of Part II. Like its earthier predecessors, this song builds on a low-key soundscape, but it also rises higher. The bass is fairly funky on the choruses, lifting the song up and feeling almost fun. Hayley sings about a relationship that fell apart, wondering why it had to end as it did. The second half of the track moves in another direction, feeling more somber as Hayley admits to her loneliness and apologizes for freaking out. It’s sad and reflective, yet dreamlike and powerful. “Why We Ever” fades away, closing out Part II of the album.
Petals For Armor III
“Pure Love” – Instantly, the third and final part of Petals For Armor flits into another direction. Hayley opens with a harrumph before a sick bass line breaks in. Percussion gives the song strength before Hayley croons the first verse. She warns, “The opposite of love is fear,” but she’s not yet used to how love feels. Details in the background hint at what’s to come, but even so, the glorious chorus still takes you by surprise. Hayley belts “If I want your love” over a disco beat, glimmering synths, murmurs to “give a little,” and a bassy sound anchoring it down. It has a sonic similarity to Paramore’s last album, After Laughter, yet sounds freer. It’s a great start to Part III!
“Taken” – That transitions seamlessly into “Taken,” a song built on energized bass and a funky shuffle. It sounds more low-key, a percussive sound forming the backdrop for lyrics about being in a relationship. Hayley sings that both she and a guy are taken, so no need to ask about their relationship status. It’s a sweet song, and sonically forms a bridge between the raw, subdued sounds on some tracks and the more upbeat pop style of others.
“Sugar On The Rim” – Perhaps the biggest surprise here is “Sugar On The Rim,” a song opening with unconventional percussion and Hayley robotically intoning the title. As she speaks faster, fat bass comes in, giving weight to the track. Thirty seconds in, Hayley launches into the first verse, crooning a descending melody. It grows more dancey before getting to a pre-chorus highlighting impressively low vocals. We then get to the jittery chorus: Over a kinetic, disco pop beat, Hayley chants about new sensations and exceeded expectations. Although the preview two days ago didn’t quite convince us, “Sugar On The Rim” is a standout once you hear it in full.
“Watch Me While I Bloom” – It moves nicely into another odd song: “Watch Me While I Bloom” starts with interesting synths before Hayley belts, “How lucky I feel!” It has a shuffling energy, dynamic sounds, and impassioned vocals that harken back to Paramore’s albums. The song moves to a funky chorus, bass prominent before the beat drops. It’s energetic and offers an empowering message of self-love. It also builds on the floral themes throughout the album – from the album title taken from “Simmer” to “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” to this. “Watch Me While I Bloom” is an even mix of everything on Petals For Armor – the funky, the pop, the earthy, with some soulful vocals for good measure.
“Crystal Clear” – The last song crackles in on bright keyboard chords. Then the drums come in, and “Crystal Clear” launches into a sparse and buoyant soundscape. There’s something airy and free about it, bouncing percussion making it playful even as the lyrics work at something deeper. Bass and rolling drums give weight to Hayley’s words about staying in place despite her fear. The chorus kicks in, driving home the low-key, calming vibe. “Crystal Clear” is vibey and hypnotic, a perfect way to end Petals For Armor.
Petals For Armor Score: 4.5/5
Highlights on Petals For Armor include: “Simmer,” “Leave It Alone,” “Creepin,” “Dead Horse,” “Over Yet,” “Pure Love,” and “Sugar On The Rim.”
You can stream or buy Petals For Armor at all the major music providers here.