Haley Williams - FLOWERS for VASES / descansos (Cover Artwork)

Haley Williams

FLOWERS for VASES / descansos (2021)

Atlantic Records

Haley Williams’ last outing in Petals For Armor was an exercise your demons statement piece from the one time Paramore singer. It explored, in not so subtle terms, her failed marriage and the trauma that compounded from it. It pulled the curtains back on how she processed the grief and all that comes with moving on. But for all it was, it definitely wasn’t a break up album. That’s why it was a conscious choice to see her describe her new album as a bit of prequel to last year’s release. Why explore what you’ve already exercised?

FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is a quarantine album. After the cancellation of a much hyped solo tour to coincide with Petals For Armor, the COVID shutdowns rendered Williams homebound and with minimal to do but continue to process the nature of her art and capacity for love. This album is the result of that. It’s much more somber than her previous release trading out the light funk and indie undertones for lightly strummed guitars, piano, hushed vocals, and a greater emphasis of atmospherics. You can feel the weight of quarantine in the album and can’t help but notice how it seeps into some of the lyrics. “The trouble is the way you stick / To any part of me that remains in tact,” sings Williams on “Aystotle.”

Like the leftover remnants of the virus still traumatizing one's health, Williams’ past relationship is even further complicated here, but through a less rose colored hue. While Petals For Armor was singularly triumphant at times, FLOWERS for VASES / descansos is every bit as introspective and heartbreaking as the tragically necessary solitude that led to its existence. The album opens up with a solitary acoustic guitar and Williams’ quieted vocals admitting, “First thing to go / Was the sound of his voice / It echoes, I’m sure / But I can’t hear it.” The song sets the pace for what unfolds on FLOWERS for VASES / descansos.

“First Thing To Go” leads directly into “My Limb,” a quite literal inspection of the phantom limb feeling a broken relationship can leave you. Each lyrical reference builds on the last and hits with unrelenting heartbreak. “Funny of the two of us / You were always the gentle one,” hints in response at a song like “Vicious Love” where she had a feature on. “Trigger” continues in that mindful harvesting of heartache with Williams referencing past relationships and a through line to Paramore songs, “I get off on telling everybody what went wrong.”

By the time Williams’ light acoustic upstrokes lead her into “Good Grief,” the listener is just leveled with the weight of these songs. “Good Grief” reads like a page ripped from a diary that’s so personal in nature, it’s hard to hear without feeling its intent. It’s clear at this point there will be no release from the grip of the past that haunts this album. It’s why on “HYD,” the airplane interrupting opening almost feels necessary in the album’s tracking for a moment of levity before FLOWERS for VASES / descansos dives even further into this exploration while beginning to draw connections from a fraught love life to a hard childhood. Williams has always been open about how her parents' divorce affected her. You hear this in the background of the instrumental “Descansos” as the sounds of kids’ joy is interspersed in the piano and harmonies.

If you made it to the closing track “Just A Lover,” FLOWERS for VASES / descansos reveals the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this review. This album is a prequel to Petals For Armor because it belies acceptance. The intersection of her art and her capacity for love needed an exploration of resolution to get to the triumph over trauma on last year's release. This may have not been planned, but certainly feels like a necessary link in the arc of Williams’ discography.