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Ensconced but Isolated, Hayley Williams Is Pensive in ‘FLOWERS for VASES / descansos’

Hayley Williams surprise-released a 14-track solo album, “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos,” on Feb. 5. The album marks Williams’ second solo venture and comes less than a year after her solo debut album, “Petals for Armor.” Williams’ crooning voice is the main focal point in “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos,” with strikingly intimate and acoustic guitar-based melodies accompanying deliberate lyrics. Introspective and filled with personal heartbreak woes, the album presents a moment of clarity in the aftermath of 2020’s haunting, isolated silence.

Inspired by an excerpt from “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” an anthology written by poet and author Clarissa Pinkola Estés in 1989, the titular “descansos” references small wooden crosses positioned at unexpected, tragic and fatalistic sites. Solely written, performed and recorded by Williams at her home in Nashville, “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos” captures the essence of rebirth in a time period defined by isolation. 

“For me, there’s no better way to tackle these individual subjects other than holistically,” Williams said in a press release prior to the release of the surprise album. ​“The ways I’ve been given time (forcibly, really) to stew on certain pains long enough to understand that they in fact, need to be released … indefinitely. I may never have been offered such a kindness; an opportunity to tend to the seeds I’d planted, to harvest, and to weed or prune what is no longer alive, in order to make space for the living.”

The album itself draws sonic parallels to Williams’ 2017 cover of Tegan and Sara’s “Nineteen” and to songs from her own band Paramore, “Last Hope” and “26.” All 14 tracks express a sense of intimacy since Williams’ crisp and clear vocals sound as if she’s ensconced, singing unfiltered in the comfort of her own home. 

“Asystole” is a song that evokes an impassioned feeling of not wanting to let go from a flatlined relationship and desperately trying to revive it. Williams’ vocals are at the forefront of this song — as with most of the songs in the album — and is combined with a light acoustic guitar strumming in the background. Conveying the desperation through her vocals, Williams sings “Revive your love in me / Revive another side of me / My eyes, they see the poison devotion in me” to express her undying loyalty to the relationship despite it being unrescuable. Less than 2% of people are able to survive from the medical asystole, but Williams metaphorically creates a scene where she’s fighting for the relationship against all odds.

Photo provided by Hayley Williams @yelyahwilliams/Twitter.

In “Trigger,” Williams describes a toxic relationship in which both sides feel like they have the upper hand in the relationship — one who holds the trigger while another holds and owns the gun. By introducing the metaphor of the trigger, Williams is able to express the fragile state of the relationship and how both sides could potentially invoke serious damage on each other. A melodious piano and acoustic guitar are expressed throughout the entirety of the song, placing the message and the lyrics of the song at the focus: “I got the trigger, but you own the gun / How come you never put the safety on?” Underlying tensions between the two are existent and the trigger on the relationship could go off any second if one side dares to make a move. 

“Just A Lover” is a cathartic track that examines a heartbreak woe in its purest form. Williams’ ache is expressed through the lyrics, “In the morning I feel my heart crack open, one last chorus;” she feels like she’s just a lover that has been used in the relationship. In a sense, “Just A Lover” is a muted conniption because of the written frustration and sadness seeping from Williams’ desperate vocals.

However, it isn’t only heartbreak that Williams touches on in the album since many lyrics draw from personal anecdotes and optimistic hope. In “Inordinary,” Williams reflects on her childhood past and how it has shaped her into who she is today. “Started over, Tennessee / Rent was cheap and we were free” and “Life began in seventh grade / When me and momma got away” detail a restorative and familiar time before fame. Now reflective, Williams reminisces her short fleeting childhood; Paramore’s inception in 2004 was when she was only 16 years old.

Influenced by Williams’ Nashville country roots, “Over Those Hills” starts with a country-twinged electric guitar melody and feels like it could belong in the soundtrack of HBO’s 2018 mini-series “Sharp Objects.” Lyrics like “Over those hills, I bet you’re somewhere dreaming” and “When you wake up, ever wish I was beside you?” alludes to Williams pining for an ex-lover that she lost contact with over the years. It’s hopeful and brutally honest, underlined with slight regret about letting the relationship fade away and feeling numb in the aftermath of it.

Williams is able to capture the cloudless days combined with reflective dreamscapes since many of the songs are set on a background of gentle instruments and are interlaced with in-depth lyrics. Just how intimate the album feels is amplified in “HYD,” when an airplane flying over Williams’ recording is heard. “HYD,” which is the acronym for “How You Doing,” alludes to the past relationship expressed in “Over the Hills.” Now, Williams is dreaming and theorizing on how the former flame thinks of her years later in retrospect: “I wonder how you view me / How you view me now.” 

“FLOWERS for VASES / descansos” offers a multi-faceted glimpse into the ranging emotions and brilliance crafted in Williams’ mind, one that fostered from the moments of silence experienced in lockdown. The album is fraught with Williams’ pouring her entirety into a creative outlet since every emotion can be felt through her honest tone mixed with an acoustic-based background and, at times, dark, sultry pop. “FLOWERS for VASES / descansos” is the culmination of William’s versatility in songwriting and in capturing the fragile state of the mind when given time to reflect on past experiences.

Ryan Mikeala Nguyen is a 2020-2021 Co-Copy Editor. She can be reached at copy@newuniversity.org.