Music Reviews
Petals for Armor

Hayley Williams Petals for Armor

(Atlantic) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

The shift to a solo project is always one that comes with questions. Why would a well-known lead singer make the jump into their own name as opposed to just taking their band in the direction they want? Is their solo album going to be a stylistic change? Is there resentment in the band? You find yourself spinning conspiracy theories until some answers surface. With Haylee Williams, the solo album comes long into a successful and strong career as the frontwomen for Paramore and it still sees her breaking new ground. Petals for Armor is that expected stylistic change, but any fan of Paramore shouldn’t be too off-put. It’s a great album that is built upon Williams’ pop sensibilities while trying out sharp and airy production that suits her voice perfectly.

Lead single Simmer is a concoction of breathless synths chunky guitars, but it’s all about atmosphere here. The reverberating vocals and fading bass parts create a tense ambiance that fits the lyrics perfectly. Williams sings repeatedly about “drawing the line between wrath and mercy” on the chorus, but the harshest lyrics come on the great second verse. That aforementioned tense mood almost pops when she sings the album’s best line: “If my child needed protection from a fucker like that man, I’d sooner gut him because nothing cuts like a mother.” The imagery is startling, and it's only a single example of the great moments on this album.

With the repeated motif of flowers on Petals for Armor, Williams turns a theme that you’d expect to be trite into something genuine and moving. On album highlight Roses / Lotus / Violent / Iris, she pairs sharp lyrical emotion with sandy cymbals and swooning strings reminiscent of Radiohead-era In Rainbows. Over funky bass hits, Watch Me While I Bloom features memorable lines about feeling comfortable in one's body again—and while the metaphor is as blunt as it possibly could be, Williams' ecstatic delivery sells it.

The slightly funky, somewhat sad Dead Horse is Petals for Armor's best, a tune that erupts into one of the best choruses that Williams has ever written. It opens with fickle synths, washed guitar notes, and rolling drums, but latches onto the lyrical idea of pushing back against unhappiness. By the time the song is centered, the refrain is so huge and so catchy that someone with a Paramore allergy would still enjoy it.

Petals for Armor succeeds best at sustaining a mood throughout, capturing the chaotic ups and downs of depression. Some moments are sugary sweet, while others are biting and angry, but the album keeps things healthy by switching between infectious pop tunes and mellow art-pop parts. It finally reaches a calm moment on the closer Crystal Clear, wrapping up a unified and wonderful project all about attempting to find that calm. It’s a lovely and steady moment on a great album of turmoil, and that’s why it works so well.