By Elliott Nguyen
Just eight months after her chart-topping debut solo album gave fans a pleasant surprise during the early months of quarantine, Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams is back with her second effort, “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos.”
In announcement posts on her social media, Williams said that she wrote, played and recorded the entire album from home by herself while in lockdown.
Known for her openness about struggling with her mental health, Williams yet again puts her emotions on display with this raw and personal record. The album discusses love and loss, its darker tone putting it in stark contrast to its optimistic predecessor, “Petals for Armor,” which Williams references several times throughout the album.
“FLOWERS for VASES / descansos” opens with “First Thing to Go,” a slow acoustic guitar ballad that sets the tone for the entire record. The first line of the song, “The first thing to go was the sound of his voice” establishes a theme that subsequent songs carry forward as each describes another “thing” that leaves or is lost.
In the moody “My Limb,” Williams compares the person she lost, presumably a significant other, to one of her limbs, singing “If your part of me is gone now, do I wanna survive?” The track is one of the strongest on the album, with a steady, compelling groove and a well-constructed blend of subtle yet purposeful instruments to complement Williams’ voice. It has already garnered over 500,000 streams on Spotify.
“Asystole,” named after the deadliest kind of cardiac arrest, is ironically upbeat with its folk-influenced acoustic guitar riff driving the song most of the way. With her melodic vocals, Williams describes being unable to move on from someone. The song finishes with an emotional piano solo.
Williams explores more of her vocal talents with “Trigger,” with little more than an acoustic and a piano to help her build towards a crescendo as she sings, “I got the trigger but you hold the gun/ How come you never put the safety on?” The song explores the ways in which love can hurt as much as it heals.
“Over Those Hills” serves as one of the most upbeat songs on the record. With an indie-groove, Williams wonders what could have been. The song slows down dramatically in the bridge, before leading into a bittersweet electric guitar solo, then ends with Williams humming over a pleasant guitar riff.
The pain and longing continues on “Good Grief,” in which Williams recounts her empty days and struggles still with moving on. Referencing the title in each of the three verses, she sings “There’s no such thing as good grief.”
In a somewhat cheerful “Wait On,” Williams marvels at her ability to “keep going without you.” Her vocals are of the softer kind in this song, which ends with a final hope-filled strum of her guitar.
“KYRH,” which stands for “Keep You Right Here,” is a crushing piano ballad in which Williams lets her fingers do the talking — there are only nine lines in the song. Nonetheless, the song is one of the most compelling and emotional on the album.
The next song, “Inordinary,” is quite the opposite. Though still a melancholy song, it has a much faster tempo and is very much lyric-driven, as Williams recalls her less-than-happy childhood.
“HYD,” an abbreviation for “How You Doing,” begins with a humorous sample of Williams messing up the beginning. The song then kicks up in earnest, with crooning background humming to help Williams wonder about her ex-lover. As the song passes the halfway point, more ambient instruments enter and bring the song towards its peak before coming back down again.
“No Use I Just Do” begins with slow piano playing, which then cedes the stage to Williams’ forlorn vocals as she laments, “It’s no use, I just love you.” The line is repeated many times throughout the short song as Williams finally admits to her longing.
“Find Me Here,” which Williams previously released as an unfinished version, is another short song with very simple instrumentals. The tone is calm and content, much in contrast to the rest of the album. This contrast is also apparent in the lyrics, where Williams simply expresses love without reservation.
The titular “Descansos” is the sole instrumental on the record, named after the Spanish word for roadside memorials that mark locations where a person died suddenly, or had a significant life experience. The second-to-last song on the album, it serves as a thematic and literal build up for the finale.
The record ends with “Just A Lover.” The song begins slow, driven by a soft piano and backed by a bass riff. Then, drums kick in, and the energy begins to build. Finally, a distorted electric guitar joins the mix and helps the song soar to new heights before abruptly ending with the line, “I know exactly what this is, or whatever it was.” Williams expresses an emotion that is not so much happiness, but more contentedness and stability, a fitting conclusion to a record in which she writhed in agony, searching for the answer that this song finally delivered.
With “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos,” Williams trades the experimentalism of her debut album for a powerful, bleeding-heart emotional performance listeners can sing or sob along to. Though scaled back in terms of production, length, and range, the record offers a concentrated dose of catchy, moving songs with meaningful and well-written lyrics. With all the pent-up frustration, sadness and disappointment of a year-long quarantine, Williams puts forth a no-holds-barred display of what heartbreak really sounds like. Fans of her work will be pleased with the more focused, folk and indie-inspired style and subtle musical references to the ballads of her Paramore days, and should certainly give this album a listen.