Review Summary: Paramore's frontwoman thrives the more she removes herself from convention, and it feels like the start of something special.
The solo career of Hayley Williams has always been a foregone conclusion. She’s still the highlight of Paramore, the pop/punk/rock outfit through which she rose to stardom, and rightfully so. Her powerful voice is what separates the band from hundreds of other similar acts, and she’s also arguably the reason for Paramore’s success and longevity. How
she would make a career out of going solo was always the curious thing; would she go full-blown pop star? Her 2010 collaboration with hip-hop artist B.o.B. alluded to the possibility, although Williams possesses something of a defiant edge that doesn't suggest she'd submit to the mainstream pop industry. Hayley loves to do things her
way; at times it was the bane of the Farro brothers’ existence, but it may prove to be a boon in the long run. After all, Petals for Armor I
is anything but ordinary, and it places her on the precipice of something truly special.
Williams’ debut EP doesn’t feel like the work of a former pop-punker, and that’s a good thing. Hayley faces change head-on, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering just how in-stride Paramore was able to evolve with 2017’s After Laughter
, an 80s-pop inclined piece that was a stark departure from their previous catalog. On Petals for Armor I
, Hayley finds herself very mood-driven, blending alt-rock atmospheres that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Radiohead album with funky, offbeat grooves. ‘Simmer’ opens the experience with palpable tension; it feels like being quietly stalked as Hayley’s vocals slink along with sinister undertones. Echoed whispers of “simmer” rattle throughout the track’s bridge, and it only adds to the sense of mystery. Given the repetitive nature of the refrain and the limited scope of Hayley’s vocal usage, it’s surprisingly addictive. ‘Leave It Alone’ is accented by distantly clamoring guitars and eerie synth swells that manage to twist “contemplative” into “ominous”, whereas ‘Cinnamon’ is a bit more upbeat – but not quite to the point of After Laughter
. Hayley takes an interesting vocal approach throughout much of the EP; she often sings in a lower register, rarely opts for anything that could be deemed sugary, and doesn’t aspire to showcase her range at every possible turn. ‘Cinnamon’, despite its rhythmic upbeat groove, still manages to feel secretive and evasive – a direct result of Williams’ vocal style. ‘Creepin’ is another fun yet enigmatic effort, which features an infectious stomp-beat and electronically altered vocals during the chorus that make it seem like Hayley is up to no good. Petals for Armor I
doesn’t much break free from this veil of shadowy, stealthy pop until ‘Sudden Desire’, the EP’s closing track centered around lust. It’s the first song on the album where Williams lets her high pitch erupt, and it’s all the more satisfying in the wake of the preceding four songs which act like a low-laying fog.
Petals for Armor I
is a highly promising debut for Hayley Williams. She expands her sonic palette well beyond anything she’s accomplished as the Paramore frontwoman, which will hopefully lift up her solo career and
the band rather than simply spelling doom for the latter. If one thing is clear, it’s that Williams seems to thrive the more she removes herself from convention; it became apparent with After Laughter
, and now it’s obvious with Petals for Armor I
. As she continues to challenge herself professionally, we may find that the best is yet to come for a seasoned artist who is just beginning to realize her full potential.