Between Wrath and Mercy

It’s incredible to think that Hayley Williams is 31 now, but she’s spent half of her life in the music business, and has pretty much seen it all despite being such a relatively young age. It’s gotten to the point now where her band Paramore has influenced a new generation of young female musicians, and justifiably so too, because Paramore has steadily emerged as one of the most exciting rock/pop bands in America. 2013’s Paramore (my album of the year that year) and 2017’s excellent After Laughter broke new ground for Williams, guitarist/co-songwriter Taylor York, and the rest of the band, but although it looked like they were enjoying some well-earned success, there’s been nothing but turmoil in Williams’s life. Her marriage imploded, while various band lineups have disintegrated in different but equally controversial scenarios. All this happened while Williams started to learn about her own anxiety and depression, which her debut solo album explores deeply and, in the end, bravely.

Petals For Armor is a fascinating record that has only gotten better and better in the months after its release back in May. Part therapy session, part deconstruction of Williams’s music, part experimental work, the album is another collaboration between Williams and York (the two are absolutely magical together on every single record they make, going back to 2007’s Riot!). It’s so adventurous, and the way it puts such a quirky touch on modern rock and pop reminds me a lot of what Radiohead has done over the last 15 years or so. “Simmer” and “Cinnamon” are great examples of this: skitters, dark, enigmatic, and catchy in a way that sneaks up on you. “Dead Horse” feels the closest to a continuation of After Laughter, while Williams opens up about her divorce and the shame she felt, contrasting it with the upbeat, Afro-pop inspired arrangement. Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus add some star power to Williams’s feminist mission statement “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”, while “Watch Me While I Bloom” brings the album to an empowering climax, singing, “You’re never gonna reach the sky ‘til you pull up your roots, leave your dirt behind.” Williams has come a long way as a songwriter over the last 15 years, growing up right before our eyes, and it’s safe to say that she is now a formidable artist, one who doesn’t have to rely on her band, or any man for that matter, for validation.