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Flowers For Vases/Descansos – Hayley Willimas’ Vulnerability And Power (Album Review)

Last year we saw a solo debut a whole generation was eagerly looking forward to. Hayley Williams did what she spent years convincing us would never happen. She released the most transparent and hard-hitting music she ever made in the form of a solo album. Petals For Armor unveiled a personal journey filled with turbulence and triumph clothed in diverse emotions. 

Just ten months after the release of this empowering exposition another individual piece appeared. Flowers For Vases/descansos hit us unexpectedly, and it did it with all the power this woman possesses. The record has a narrow focus on a dramatic (and traumatic) love story with all the side-effects (good and bad) explored in detail. With a masterful conceptual arrangement, acoustic-natured tracklist, piercing emotions, and thought-provoking confessions, the Paramore frontwoman managed to once again outdo herself and hit us right where it hurts.  

Petals For Armor seems like the Record Hayley Williams needed to make. The things explored in the album are emotions that must get out in one way or another. And luckily for us, Hayley chose to do it with music.

Even though the weight of those feelings was teased in Paramore’s After Laughter, Petals For Armor (just like Flowers For Vases/descansos) only makes sense as a solo album. It is, after all, Hayley’s story and her healing – a battle she had to fight alone.

Read my review on the album here.

Each replay of this record shows me a new detail adding up to my fascination. Music-wise, concept-wise, and even visually Petals For Armor is one of the most refined albums I have seen recently. Hats down to Hayley and Lindsey Byrnes for the visual aspect of the album, which is just as important as the music.

The journey Petals For Armor took us on was one of the most thought-provoking and empowering ones the music industry has seen in recent years. For a long-anticipated debut, the record shone with perfect execution in every possible aspect (which is impressive considering the high expectations towards it).  

After listening to the full album you would think that all has been said and experienced. But there was a fundamental part of Petals For Armor that could be expanded upon. A story that has much more depth worth losing yourself into. This is exactly what Hayley did for Flowers For Vases/descansos.

Flowers For Vases/descansos takes a few spins to comprehend appropriately. Each new one makes you appreciate it more and unveils hidden references and details.

As stated by Hayley, the album is a detour between part one and two of Petals For Armor. The focus here is strictly on a past relationship. Flowers For Vases/descansos represents a complete timeline of dealing with the separation – the tracklist constructs different chapters of the process.

Here a bit of what Hayley has to say about the record

The title of the record itself hints at the highlight of the story. Descanso – the cross placed at the site of an unexpected death, represents the final destination of the journey Hayley takes us on.

After the excruciating pain and the hard-earned gratitude of the relationship, the title track of the album – a simple but emotionally overwhelming instrumental, marks the final outcome. It is a tragic but natural process that will make you look back at your own life and relationships misty-eyed and emotionally destroyed.

The rest of the record also unites vague metaphors and outstanding symbolism with real-life references. Each song plays a fundamental part in the story and shows the most vulnerable and the strongest side of Hayley Williams at the same time.

On the first listen the acoustic nature of the record might become a reason to see it as repetitive and boring. Most of the tracks have similar minimalistic instrumental composition, and with fourteen of them, it does get a bit too much.

However, the focus of Flowers For Vases/descansos is the emotional value and the mood around each chapter of the story. The instrumentals are constructed to accurately support the that and help create a consistent flow of thoughts and experiences (also – all of them are done by Hayley alone). And it works – the record seems like a whole.

This particular type of sonic execution is the only thing that fits it and trying force a “diversification” on it would not work anyway.

The start of the record immediately ties in with a certain part of Petals For Armor – Why We Ever.

First Thing To Go shows a look back at a past relationship and explores the stages of finding the strength to let go. The process of moving on and all the small painful details about it is thoroughly exposed.

Time moves slow, I just talk to myself
I finish my own sentences the way you used to

But there is an even more important takeaway from this introductory piece. Despite finding the strength to move on and overcoming the pain of the separation, there will always be a part of that relationship staying alive and being missed.

The addition of an altar as a symbol of the past love and the blind following of an unrealistic idea for the perfect relationship adds a nice touch of eye-opening though food.

My Limb follows-up with the most dynamic vocal and instrumental arrangement in the album. The song has a hypnotizing chorus and presents a backstory of the first track. The focus is on the need to “cut off” a certain person from your life but struggling with not wanting to do it.

But I’ll let my body bleed out, leaning to my left side
If your part of me is gone now, do I wanna survive?

Asystole continues the “human body” metaphors by using cardiac arrest as a symbol of a failing relationship. The song also connects with the preceding one by the lyric “the trouble is the way you stick/to any part of me the remains intact” hinting that there will always be a part that will keep that person alive.

The song is a masterpiece in terms of metaphors and refined details. Hayley appears to be caught in the confusion and heartbreak of the realization that the relationship has died, but she cannot find the strength to “pull the plug”.

Trigger continues the reflective look at the past by exploring expectations, pain, and pivotal life experiences. It also touches on the paradox of looking for something that seems impossible to find and then allowing underappreciation to lead you back to pain.

So what do people sing about once they finally found it?
Take it for granted, think of how they were better without it
I’d like to imagine I’ll never be like that
But if I’m honest, I know I already have

The song raises a hard-hitting question – do we really want to be loved, or do we live for the struggle? The very emotional song leads deeper into the narrative Hayley is telling and sets the stage for the next chapter.

Over Those Hills is an entrance into the next stage of the unavoidable separation experience. It shows Hayley wondering how her ex-partner is doing after the break-up. This is mixed in with reminiscence about what could have been if they stayed together and nostalgically remembering good and bad moments.

Good Grief accurately follows by exposing the pain of missing someone you love (even if the person is not good for you). It pierces with the heartache of a tragic separation drawn with beautiful metaphors.

Wait On is the track with the strongest metaphorical substance. It is a beautiful, accurate representation of coping with the pain and hurt and realizing the need to move on from the past relationship. The song is both hurting and empowering at the same time – a true mirror of reality.

The sky still wakes up every morning
And sometimes feels the need to pour out
Evеrything it’s tired of holding
But either way, it nеver comes down
It’s gonna stay and find a way around the clouds

KYRH (Keep You Right Here) marks the half of the album with a dramatic piano instrumental. It seems like an interlude with the minimal lyricism and strong focus on the melody.

It is one of the songs that can have many interpretations, but the connection to the concept of the album and the narrative is as clear as day.

The first song from the second half – Inordinary is the most literal on the record. It is another hyper-reflective piece taking us back to Hayley’s early life.

The song explores the beauty in the simple, ordinary things and reveals what some of the artist’s happiest moments were. Inordinary is filled with references to past events and has a heartwarming appreciative tone that will melt your heart.

After that look in the distant past and the melancholy surrounding it, Hayley takes us back to the present. HYD (How You Doing) is an elaboration of Over Those Hills.

The song once again expresses the wondering if the person you ended a relationship with is doing better, where they ended up, if they achieved what they dreamed of. It is filled with positive thoughts and emotions towards the former lover and presents a shift from the hurt and pain showcased in earlier in the record.

HYD also puts forth the longing to reconnect with the ex-partner. The foundations here are gratitude and concern contrary to the anger and frustration that started the whole journey (back in Simmer).

The song shows the next stage of the post-separation experience very well – the healing and clear-headed stability that starts to form.

No Use I Just Do is one of the core pieces of Flowers For Vases/descansos for me. It puts a universal truth plain and simple – you cannot control love, no matter how hard you try. Once again, the prevailing feelings here are warmth and appreciation expressed in a soothing and comforting way.

Find Me Hear is the natural continuation of the thread that started back in HYD. It is a powerful exposition that sometimes people need to fight their battles alone. Hayley reminds us that great strength is required to let someone go on without you. She also highlights the fact that being supportive without butting in those battles is a great way to “stand by” someone.

Find Me Here is incredibly sweet and hard-hitting. It holds the essence of real love and the blissful stage of overcoming the grief – dedicating yourself to appreciation and positive thoughts.

After the beautifully tragic conclusion in the face of Descansos, we can also hear an epilogue to the rollercoaster of a saga that Flowers For Vases/descansos represents. Just A Lover captures the realization of what love truly is and what it does to you. It puts forth the importance of past relationships, no matter how hurtful they turned out to be.

It also gives us a glimpse of what comes next – the fear of entering the new stage of your life and the acceptance of the end of the previous one.

The first time I heard Flowers For Vases/descansos, I only saw it as good, highly emotional music. But when I immersed myself in the story I felt all the pain and struggle, the liberation, gratitude, and love that it radiates. The record defeated me.

It is a spiritual experience. The reason might be the parallels I draw between my own life and relationships, but there is no denying that Hayley put everything she had into this record. This is the main reason it stands as such a refined and well-working piece.

What started in Petals For Armor turned out being more than just self-expression and exposition of bottled up feelings. It became a saga of pivotal life events with long-lasting after-effects. Most of those hurt, but it is necessary to live through then and use them to grow. Hayley proved it.

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This post first appeared on Wolf48, please read the originial post: here

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Flowers For Vases/Descansos – Hayley Willimas’ Vulnerability And Power (Album Review)


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