Over the past fifteen-or-so years, Hayley Williams has expressed an ability to push forward, be creative, and forge her own identity among the other members of Paramore. The group’s first few releases erupted, making them likely the most popular female-lead pop-punk group in the world. And following their 2017 release, After Laughter, it became hard to argue against her and the band’s success—now with multiple, proven styles. But with her second solo record in two years, Flowers for Vases / Descansos, Williams doesn’t tap into any of that, and struggles to distinguish herself from her female indie rock peers sonically or lyrically; resulting in a dull interpretation of modern stars like Mitski and Weyes Blood.
Like many her peers, Williams’ focus with this record is simply on lyricism and the soothing sound of folksy guitar. But without bashing the truths of Hayley Williams’ life and how she chooses to express them, most attempts to create any feeling of intimacy or transparency are undermined by short song structures and lengthy, underwhelming instrumental sections.
While listening to the songs themselves, they felt as though they were missing an ultimate purpose or goal, and instead presented themselves as fragmented pieces with no final form. Full of quick poetic verses and just-as-quick and simple choruses, the individual lines of each track are often more than fine and filled with nuance at times. Yet, they rarely tell a complete story, simply inviting the feelings of abandonment, failed relationships, etc., without expanding upon them in meaningful ways—yes, we get it, “The first thing to go was the sound of his voice…” what else? This can even be illustrated by just how sparse the lyrics are seen on the album’s Genius pages.
Complimenting (not so much) the lack of lyrical content is then the surprising amount of empty space on this record. As mentioned earlier, many pauses in lyricism are accompanied by extended instrumental breaks. Whether it’s the minimal piano chords on “No Use I Just Do,” or the forty second outro on “Wait On,” silence is very prevalent. But more frustrating than that, some of the lyrical content is just unnecessary repetition. The second track, “My Limb,” features a chorus whose rhythmic structure and obnoxious energy immediately reminds me of Eminem’s “Venom”—something I never wanted to say for the rest of my life.
The album—like every other—does have its highlight moments, but they’re few and far between. Williams’ chuckling and “Are you fucking kidding me,” following an airplane flying by the studio is both relatable and unexpected in the moment. And though it’s still lacking in the storytelling department, the harrowing, hesitant pianos on “Just A Lover” inject the track with emotion that is later executed on with some bright, driving guitars that push it to a close.
Even with a surprisingly long fourteen songs, Hayley Williams’ Flowers for Vases / Descansos doesn’t attempt to reach for the top of the female indie rock genre. There’s no patient, grandiose track like Mitski’s “Geyser,” no real feat of production like Weyes Blood’s “Movies,” and Taylor’s latest leap into indie was laced with much better storytelling and care. Even at its best, when it’s throwing heart-breaking lines at you, it can’t wrap up the feelings in a nice enough way to gain anything from it. Williams’ sophomore attempt is a disappointing, hollow representation of more established and more recently successful solo artists.