Review Summary: A song cycle of self-serenades.
Sometimes I wish The Discourse didn't exist. Oh, I'm all for the analysis, the unpacking and unfurling of an album's thematic texture, finding the little secret inroads it's left the listener to the heart of itself - all cards on the table, it's one of life's greatest pleasures. But The Discourse isn't that. The Discourse is hungry and demanding and impatient; if you don't have an opinion on the thing right this moment, you're already too late. This rush to the endpoint of what should be a leisurely experience sucks; it presses together all our full, lovely experiences of new art into two dimensions, the easier to scroll through, because what would we do without some more Good Content?
But good art needs time. FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
will need time. It's a quiet album, outwardly reserved but plenty dynamic. It gently and unceremoniously unpacks what sounds like a lifetime's worth of trauma and damage from a distance, oddly moving in its remove. I'm reminded of a filmmaker conveying, in an unbroken, wordless shot, something words and expressions would fumble to communicate. It's a strange, sweet album that I might never love as much as its Technicolour sister album, but that's for time to decide as themes and moments sink their way beneath the skin. I've just begun to grapple with what this album is, does and says; the only thing I'm sure of now is if you rush too quick to the ending, you miss all the tiny, lovely moments on the way.
And it's pretty clear there's a lot to grapple with. 'Descansos', if you didn't know, is the Spanish word for small crosses that are placed along highways in Mexico at the site of a sudden, unexpected death. It is also the term for a healing process described by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves
. Dr. Estés suggests that a woman mark out a timeline of her entire life with crosses, or descansos, wherever she's experienced a kind of death – a failed dream, a personal loss, trauma, the list is endless – so that she can put them to rest and begin to heal. I have no right to comment on this process, or to even speculate what it might entail for a woman in the world to undertake it. I mention it here purely as important context, because I think the tension between these two ideas - between the crosses marking death and the crosses allowing life to go on - is at the heart of FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
. Again, only time will tell, but I feel this album's true dynamic lies not in pop songs giving way to soft acoustic ones, but in death transforming into life, rage becoming... well, still rage, but a healthier and less self-destructive form of rage.
Williams has stated FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
is not a sequel album, but should be read as either a prequel to or detour from Petals for Armor
. This is honestly reassuring; the dark, introverted music on here is fucking confronting to hear after its predecessor culminated in the peaceful, effervescent "Crystal Clear", a contender for the single best song the artist has ever composed. That's not to give the impression this latest work falls under the easy label of 'the acoustic album'. The use of raw demo takes at the beginning of songs, hushed electronic discursions functioning as segues and even snippets of ambient music with dreamy samples of childhood recordings; all work to give FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
a quiet, mature complexity, culminating in the powerful ambient meditation "Descansos". That the album's climactic song builds from raw piano and vocals to a thundering riffy coda is no coincidence: "Just a Lover" is the album in miniature, a microcosm of its entire journey from seclusion to looking outwards at the rest of the world, beautifully setting the stage for Petals for Armor
's bold, funky pop music.
"Singing into empty glasses, no more music for the masses", Williams belts over this firebrand conclusion. To be sure, the feeling is of FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
as a deeply internal journey, not really intended for us
at all - a song cycle of self-serenades, to borrow a phrase from the artist. My conviction is that, no matter the surface style or the name of the band she plays with, Hayley Williams is making some of the most thematically complex, thoughtful music today. The Discourse may not agree - when does it ever? - but that's just background noise, an unneeded distraction from the real work of letting an album live with you for some time and seeing what results. It helps that FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
is inviting and compelling even in its quietude. What a pleasure to have a songwriter and singer of this calibre making albums like this, with seemingly limitless texture to dig into and infinite potential meaning for every listener. Just so long as they give it the time.