Review: Hayley Williams – Flowers for Vases / Descansos

As soon as I saw Hayley Williams announce that she was releasing a second album, I was sure I wanted to talk about it. But even in writing this now, I’m still thinking about how I want to approach Flowers for Vases / Descansos, an album completely different from last year’s pop fest that was Petals for Armor. It even took me a couple of days to work up the courage to listen to it in its entirety. This is not Petals, it’s not Paramore. This is the forced cracking of a geode, and whether there are gems inside still remains to be seen.

You can buy or stream Flowers for Vases / Descansos on Apple Music.

For once in my tenure with Hayley Williams as a songwriter and musician, I don’t find myself in her words. Maybe that’s a good thing. If you thought Petals was an intense and honest look at her struggles, then you’re not prepared for Flowers for Vases. I wonder if her wild way of promoting the album is a shield for how nerve wracking it must’ve been to release something so wildly personal.

The first thing I took a look at before listening to the album was the word “descansos” that she uses in the title. “Descanso” is the Spanish word for “place of rest,” and colloquially, it has come to mean the devastatingly lonely crosses on the side of the highway marking the scene of and commemorating the death of a loved one. 

The reason for tacking this onto the title is evident in every track of the album, most notably to me “The First Thing to Go”, but it also colored the way the album sounds. Yes, it’s a moody, acoustic take on the Petals for Armor subject matter, but it reminds me so much of classical Spanish guitar music, and I refuse to believe anything but it being a clear choice Hayley made.

This album is a lot of things. It’s subtle, it’s heart wrenching, it’s raw. I want this to finally be a turning point for Hayley. It wasn’t evident when Petals was released, but the fanfare of that album, the synth and the soaring vocals, was still a way she was holding things back and keeping them tucked away. It’s her right to do, it’s her story and her path to healing, but with Flowers for Vases, it seems she has finally accepted that not only is there more work to be done, but there is a different way she needs to approach it. 

Flowers for Vases is yet another jewel in Hayley Williams’ crown. Mined from hurt and years of pain and emotional neglect, this jewel sits toward the back, hidden from view, and it is sharp and can cut. Yet the crown wouldn’t be complete without it.

by Nadia Alves

kiel_hauckNadia Alves has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

The Best Songs of 2020

You can view our list of The Best Albums of 2020 here.

For many of us, our music listening experience in 2020 was vastly different from any other year. I honestly have no memories of jamming to songs in my car, hearing music over the loud speaker at a bar, or enjoying live music with a crowd of people on a warm, summer night. In 2020, my memories are mostly indoors, and very often, alone.

So what songs do we turn to in those moments? What tracks kept us company through the ups and mostly downs of a year lived largely in quarantine? We did our best to build a list of songs that captured the emotional highs and lows we felt, along with tracks that spoke something meaningful or something new. Take a look – and a listen – and let us know your favorite tracks in the replies!

15. AJR – “Bang!”

Here’s a real wild card. I was supposed to see AJR play this spring but then quarantine started. They’re a recent addition to my Spotify, but my brother is a big fan and has been trying to get me to listen to them for about a year or so now (Hi Nick!). He was largely unsuccessful in his attempts, but their radio single “Bang!” was when I hopped on the train. I’m not generally a Top 40 gal, but this song is refreshing. It’s radio friendly but original. Lyrically, it’s about growing up and how difficult that is, but sonically we’re at a party. It’s a promising single for the band’s fourth album and I’m excited to see how it fits in with the rest of it (We can expect that project early next year.) – Nadia Alves

14. The Bombpops – “Double Arrows Down”

“Double Arrows Down” is a raging punk song that focuses on guitarist/vocalist Poli Van Dam’s struggle with diabetes. Focused around an incident of passing out at a gas station due to complications from the disease, the song is equal parts terrifying and filled with rage (“I’m sitting there, in another cold pharmacy chair / Standing by while they suck my veins and wallet dry / I can write all these defiant songs, but my life is still reliant on machines”). The Bombpops portray the terror of this disease against a blazing punk riff and an electrifying pop chorus. The full horror and frustration of the disease is played out against the sound of rebellion, and hope to ultimately battle diabetes to the end. – Kyle Schultz

13. Juice Wrld – “Righteous”

Juice Wrld’s posthumous 2020 album Legends Never Die is a breathtaking view of what was to come from the emo rapper before his tragic passing last December from a drug-induced seizure. “Righteous”, the album’s lead single, serves as a haunting reflection on his mental health struggles and self-medication in an attempt to ease the pain. His words float gently atop the melancholy beat as he ponders on death and the cyclical nature of his addiction. “Taking medicine to fix all of the damage / My anxiety the size of a planet”, he confesses as his voice begins to rise. It’s a track that encapsulates the heart of a gifted artist gone far too soon. – Kiel Hauck

12. Twenty One Pilots – “Level of Concern”

For only releasing one song in 2020, Twenty One Pilots have had quite the impact this year. They released “Level of Concern” in April, when quarantine was only a two week affair and we all were baking sourdough and blending our coffee. Ah, simpler times. Personally, the guys have had a lot going on as well — Josh got married at the end of December, and Tyler and Jenna had their baby. They still found time to give us the perfect song about the absolute stress and anxiety of living through a pandemic, and it’s easily the most on-the-nose song of the year, which is why it makes my top songs for 2020. Plus it’s a bop. – Nadia Alves

11. All Time Low – “Sleeping In”

“Sleeping In” is the best song All Time Low have written in a decade. Seamlessly blending the pop direction of recent albums and the Warped Tour mosh pits of albums past, the song is the personification of the band’s career. All at once oozing in swagger and sexiness, “Sleeping In” is the song that All Time Low were always meant to write. The song manages to find restraint in the verses with a pop-funk mesh (“We got shit to do, you got work / But we fall right back into bed, like it’s all just a game / And we can’t help that, no we can’t help that”) and an all-out punk rock chorus that rivals All Time Low’s best (“If I said ‘I want your body,’ would you hold it against me?”). – Kyle Schultz

10. The 1975 – “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”

I’ve long held that The 1975 are at their best when their songs are stripped down to an elemental level, which is what makes “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America” one of their best. A painful, folksy track about secret loves forbidden by religion reaches unexpected heights thanks to contributions from Phoebe Bridgers. Could anyone else on the planet make lines as simple as, “I’m in love with the girl next door / Her name is Claire” sound as emotional and meaningful through cracking, whispered vocals? When Bridgers and Matt Healy come together during the song’s final chorus, their song of love just beyond their reach becomes magic – and tragic: “Fortunately I believe / Lucky me”. – Kiel Hauck

9. Phoebe Bridgers – “Moon Song”

Though not released as one of the singles from Punisher, this track from the album is my favorite. I mentioned the raw emotion of it in my album review. Generally the freshness of a song will influence how much it sticks in my mind before I toss it aside for something shinier I get distracted by, but this one is a true jewel on the album, Phoebe’s discography, and the year in music. It’s rumored to be inspired by Conor Oberst, but lines like “You’re holding me like water in your hands” is all too relatable in a year where almost all of us have experienced intense loss and a redefining of priorities. I could have chosen any one of the songs from Punisher as one of my top songs this year — the album is truly that great — but “Moon Song” just has a little something extra that takes it all the way to the top for me. – Nadia Alves

8. KennyHoopla – “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//”

The title track from KennyHoopla’s debut EP is a renaissance song of genre, mashing new wave rock with garage punk and creating a modern dance track with the sensibilities of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The song is an energetic track that sounds ripped from the early 2000’s indie scene. However, the track is also a commentary on the uncomfortable nature of conforming to looking acceptable in society (“Culture is so claustrophobic / Claws to prove it hurts so good / And the party’s over / I’m still on your couch now, love”). The speed at which society moves and changes its opinion is a damaging thing (“How can I rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway? / Pain on the keys, is everybody still breathing? / Weight of my shadow, it gets more heavy, and it scares me, yeah”). The song turns the anxiety of the quickly changing world into a song that works equally on the dance floor as it does on a Midwestern emo playlist. – Kyle Schultz

7. Halsey – “you should be sad”

For the country ballad entry to the genre melting pot that is Manic, Halsey penned “you should be sad”, one of the rawest and most personal tracks of the year. It’s easy to mistake it as a break-up song (that was last year’s “Without Me”), but this is what you write when you’re on the other side, looking back at your ex with a smirk. Halsey tees things up mightily on the pre-chorus with the lines of, “No, you’re not half the man you think that you are / And you can’t fill the hole inside of you with money, drugs, and cars”, before bringing down the hammer with, “I’m so glad I never, ever had a baby with you / ‘Cause you can’t love nothing unless there’s something in it for you”. Ouch. It just might be the most empowered sad country song you’ll ever hear. – Kiel Hauck

6. Hayley Williams – “Crystal Clear”

In Hayley Williams’ solo project, Petals for Armor, she gave us songs about mental health, loss, femininity and new beginnings. Having the album since May really gave me a chance to pick through every track and I can confidently say “Crystal Clear” deserves a place on my top track list for the year. It’s the best closer I heard this year, and the way it brings the album full circle was necessary for something that began in such a dark and spiteful place. Hayley really took the time to truly process the past few years of her life and the decisions she’d made. Finishing it all off with a powerful song about forgiveness and clarity is a great lesson for all of us. – Nadia Alves

5. Taylor Swift – “Mad Woman”

One of the few venomous songs on Swift’s folklore, “Mad Woman” makes use of every line to fight back against an oppressive industry. On a base level, the song acts as a spiritual successor to Lover’s “The Man”, but there is much more to the song than the theme of “a woman scorned.” The song is at least partially a commentary against Scooter Braun, the music producer who bought all of Swift’s master recordings (“What do you sing on your drive home? / Do you see my face in the neighbor’s lawn? / Does she smile? Or does she mouth, ‘Fuck you forever?’”). One of Swift’s few rage-imbued songs, “Mad Woman” describes the toll taken on women who see themselves being taken advantage of by anyone (“Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy / What about that? / And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry”). – Kyle Schultz

4. The Weeknd – “Faith”

The most exciting stretch of After Hours belongs to the three consecutive songs featuring production from Metro Boomin, culminating with “Faith”. Here, Abel Tesfaye’s vocals become an instrument in the mix as he circles the drain and loses his religion, confessing, “When I’m coming down is the most I feel alone”. It’s a startling lament to an addiction that creates a chasm between himself and others, but the song reaches its thematic and sonically thrilling climax in the final minutes as the entire tone of the song shifts. “I ended up in the back of a flashing car”, he sings as he gently describes the shimmering lights of the cityscape and ambulance siren. The song fades into “Blinding Lights” – the biggest pop hit of the year, which takes on a sinister new meaning in this context. Truly, no one has mastered this sleight of hand trick better than The Weeknd. – Kiel Hauck

3. Marina – “Man’s World”

This has been one heck of a year regarding social justice and reform. Historic protests against police brutality, and in the America election, the choice of our first female vice president —  just to name a couple. Marina has come swooping in from her break after 2019’s Love + Fear to bring us “Man’s World,” a scathing track about gender equality, one of many women to release commentary on the issue. As a woman, the time for artists to talk about important issues plaguing my demographic are always welcome, and Marina has dropped a truth bomb on us in this track. She also put her money where her mouth is by choosing an all-gal team for the track’s production. It’s absolutely my track of the year, with its drop in November completely upending any idea I had of my ranking. – Nadia Alves

2. MxPx – “Worries”

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, MXPX were one of the first bands to release an original song about the new reality we all faced. “Worries” managed to melt away much of the anxiety that I felt living through the height of Chicago’s lockdowns and inspired me to leave the quarantine I had been in and venture home for the first time in two months.

“Worries” managed to bypass fears of the disease at the height of the lockdowns in big cities, and express the emotional resonance of a classic MXPX song while inspiring listeners to persevere with enigmatic skate punk verses and a raging punk guitar chorus/bridge (“I’m not worried, I’ll be fine / Just want you to know you’re on my mind / I’m not worried, just worried sick, a little dose of you might do the trick / You’re the cure for worried sick”).

It’s almost solely because of this song that I began to gather myself again and prepare for the rest of the year in Chicago’s early May. Even now, in December, I give this song credit for inspiring me to cast off the fear of the Spring lockdowns and prepare for the return of the every day. It’s also been a constant soundtrack throughout the year as infections seemed to surge again, reminding me that a return to “normal life” is only a matter of time away. – Kyle Schultz

1. Dua Lipa – “Break My Heart”

It’s difficult to choose just one song from Future Nostalgia that fully encapsulates Dua Lipa’s thrilling breakthrough this year, but if “Don’t Start Now” was fan service for the general audience, “Break My Heart” represents Dua’s alt-pop queen potential. Featuring an irresistible interpolation of INXS’ “Need You Tonight”, this dance/disco track feels less like an 80’s homage and more like a doorway into the future of pop music. In short, it’s the most fully realized track of the Future Nostalgia concept.

But as you’re dancing, take a listen to Dua’s growth as a songwriter. “Break My Heart” is about those moments in an exciting new relationship when you’re standing on the edge of the cliff. Is it safe to jump? Who could ever know? “I’m indecisive, but this time I know for sure”, she sings on the opening verse before crooning, “It’s you in my reflection, I’m afraid of all the things you could do to me”, on the pre-chorus. It’s a giddy uncertainty we’ve all experienced set to the most electric soundtrack you could imagine. And in a year as dark as this, it’s a refreshing dose of light and innocence. – Kiel Hauck

Honorable Mention:

Run the Jewels – “Yankee and the Brave (Ep. 4)”
Billie Eilish – “No Time to Die”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “Comeback”
Ariana Grande – “Positions”
Childish Gambino – “Algorhythm”

Posted by Kiel Hauck

The Best Albums of 2020

Mercifully, 2020 is winding to an end. Not that a simple turn of the calendar will solve all of our problems, but as we reach the end of the year, there is a lot to process and reflect on – and maybe even learn from. One thing that has been a constant for the team at It’s All Dead this year is music. Music as a reprieve, music as a distraction, music as a friend. So we take a moment away from the dread to focus on some albums that brought us joy and helped us through the toughest moments of the past year.

A quick note before we dive into the list: Our goal each year is to give a clear representation of the music that mattered to us the most while also reflecting the music that simply mattered. The larger the area in the middle of that Venn diagram, the higher it ranks on the list. Noticeably absent on this year’s list is the album that arguably mattered the most: Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters.

During our team conversations as we began working on our end-of-the-year features, we realized that none of us had spent enough time with the album to warrant it making the list without it feeling extremely disingenuous. Right or wrong, we made the call to leave it off while acknowledging the impact of the album. If you haven’t heard it, take a listen.

So here we go. Take a look – and as always – let us know your favorite albums of the year in the replies!

15. Hot Mulligan – You’ll Be Fine

I feel like I often end up pulling some wild cards into our year-end lists, and this year my wild card is You’ll Be Fine. I meant to write about it when it released in March, but this year took a lot out of me which translated to a lot more listening than writing. For me, that meant returning to this Hot Mulligan album again and again, especially over the summer. It’s quintessential pop punk, which is both right up my alley and easy to get into. They explored more thoughtful songwriting on this album compared to their previous projects, moving closer to a Wonder Years level of consideration in their production. Even though I enjoyed their first album Pilot, this album makes me truly excited for the trajectory of this band: Up. – Nadia Alves

14. Knuckle Puck – 20/20

Though Knuckle Puck have been a growing force within the scene for years, the ominously named 20/20 is their most cohesive and well-structured album to date. Somehow finding the magic of normalcy, the album stands in contrast to the year it was released in and breathes fresh life into a genre that can quickly sound redundant—the midwest pop punk scene. 20/20 reminds the listener not to back away from the problems in their life, but instead reflect and learn on the experiences. Weaving traditional emo punk against some experimental tracks on the band’s signature sound, 20/20 finds Knuckle Puck forging ahead with a fire behind them that can only see the good even when it stares into the everyday horrors we all face.  – Kyle Schultz

13. Stand Atlantic – Pink Elephant

When pop punk is at its best, it allows us to lower our inhibitions, feel our feelings, and join a safe community chorus of fellow voices caught in the fray. Depending on who you ask, it’s been a while since that experience rang true, but Sydney, Australia, act Stand Atlantic are intent on reviving the spirit. Pink Elephant, the band’s sophomore effort, is everything a great pop punk release should be while constantly stretching its wings into new territory. Vocalist Bonnie Fraser unravels the tangles that hold her back, singing “My guts keep falling out / And I’m starting to disintegrate / I’ll carry on / Yeah, it’s just like that” on the album’s opener. Call it a lament if you want, but it works better as a thesis statement on forging ahead. – Kiel Hauck

12. Neck Deep – All Distortions Are Intentional

This is the first and only album on my list that is truly escapist. A concept album about fulfilling our emo dreams in a world where we truly care about others is a necessary course of action that could make true change if we implemented it in the real world. Easily one of the most positive and thought-provoking albums to come from the pop-punk genre this year, All Distortions Are Intentional is another addition to Neck Deep’s maturing discography, and a project by a band that has truly come into their own form of activism and wave-making. – Nadia Alves

11. New Found Glory – Forever + Ever x Infinity

New Found Glory albums are mostly easy to predict: loud, catchy and filled with easy sing-along choruses. Forever + Ever x Infinity excels in that it acts as an album filled with fairy tales. The band lean heavily on their roots of writing songs about relationships, but through a lens of maturity and humor. The result is an album that both reflects on the band’s roots in pop punk, as well as presses forward with an easycore crunch and shining pop choruses (“Greatest of all Time”). Sometimes cheesy, sometimes hopelessly romantic, New Found Glory’s 10th album acts as a perfect followup to the much celebrated Self-Titled album by reflecting on the themes of that record with a middle-aged point of view and the sobering reality that only time can grant. – Kyle Schultz

10. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Hip hop fans waited patiently for the fourth installment from rap duo Run the Jewels, but RTJ4 actually arrived early. With the release date suddenly pushed forward in the midst of protests against police brutality due to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery, Run the Jewels owned the moment and captured the national outrage. Like all previous Run the Jewels albums, RTJ4 is rife with rattling bass-lines and rapid fire lyrics from Killer Mike and El-P, but this installment feels like pointed protest music right from the jump (“Yankee and the Brave”). Maybe revolution music is a more apt descriptor. – Kiel Hauck

9. All Time Low – Wake Up, Sunshine

Wake Up, Sunshine is All Time Low’s best album in a decade, perfectly balancing the pop sensibilities the band have been striving for with the punk rock buzz that earned them an adoring audience. The album is mature and reflective, but also looks confidently forward with a style that hopefully comes to define the band moving forward. A thematic sister album to fan favorite Nothing Personal, Wake Up, Sunshine highlights the growth of the band (“Some Kind of Disaster”), as well as emphasizes their storytelling ability (“Wake Up, Sunshine”) and features the best song the band has written in years (“Sleeping In”). – Kyle Schultz

8. Halsey – Manic

Manic shouldn’t work. The third full-length album from Halsey is a mess. But like paint crawling itself across the canvas, the idiosyncrasies begin to intertwine, giving unique views of mental illness and the weight of fame as you zoom in and out of the portrait. Halsey’s greatest strength as an artist has always been her vulnerability and willingness to display her deepest fears in a way that feels more than relatable. With Manic, she somehow delivers her most cohesive work despite there being no clear genre. Simply change tracks to switch between country, rock, R&B, and more. The navigation of it all feels as honest and messy as any great therapy session should. – Kiel Hauck

7. Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Many of the albums that ended up sticking out to me this year dealt with the heavy things. That is in part because I’m a heck of a pessimist, and also because the year we’ve had has been made for us pessimists. With Color Theory, Sophia Allison showed us contrast. With the color triad of yellow, blue and grey, she artfully wove a true story about loss, illness and grief – something too many of us have experienced in some way or another this year. I’m a sucker for her lo-fi sound, and it definitely added some variety to my music this year. Hopefully, Sophia Allison should be in for a great next couple of years as she rises in the indie pop sphere. – Nadia Alves

6. The Weeknd – After Hours

We were merely one week into quarantine and fear when The Weeknd dropped After Hours, an album that eerily captured the feelings of isolation so many of us were (and still are) feeling. On surface level, the album reads like textbook Tesfaye, but closer examination reveals deep and fascinating artistic maturity. After Hours studies remorse and self-reflection on the other side of a hedonistic ride. Here, the blinding lights and shimmering boulevard are blurry and distant – something to long for, but not before a winding back road of questioning and self-loathing. – Kiel Hauck

5. KennyHoopla – how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//

KennyHoopla is the type of artist all musicians dream of being. His newest EP,  how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?//, perfectly blends elements of R&B, emo, new wave and pop, among other genres, to create a bridge across the realm of music. Although just a few songs in length, KennyHoopla takes advantage of each moment by weaving an intensely honest record filled with admissions of inadequacy and fantasticism (“dust//”). Delivered with emotional depth and the intensity of a superstar, KennyHoopla sounds vibrantly original and deeply nostalgic. In just six songs, his EP accomplishes more with its time than some musicians do in their entire careers. – Kyle Schultz

4. Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

When I preordered my copy of Petals for Armor on vinyl, I did so with the expectation that it would be both a great album and my top album of the year. While it didn’t quite top my list, it felt like an album that truly mattered – an album she wrote for herself rather than for a mainstream audience. I love Petals, and I think it’s the most important project to come from Hayley Williams. She truly explored and processed a lot of things through the album, and she took us along for the ride and prompted us to be more introspective and openminded when it comes to taking care of our mental health. She brought up a lot of personal feelings regarding loss for me, and in turn, I ended up dealing with some of the things I had pushed away. I’m grateful for that. – Nadia Alves

3. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

English singer and songwriter Dua Lipa showed flashes of what was to come with her 2017 self-titled debut, but chose to shed away any preconceived notions of powerhouse pop with Future Nostalgia, an album bubbling with disco and dance spirit. Everything about it works, specifically because Dua Lipa takes full control of her art in every way without the slightest hint of restraint. 

The album never slows down, even as it veers between lanes, blurring the lines between its influences and Dua’s own original, melodic concoctions. “You want a timeless song / I want to change the game”, she tells us mere seconds into the album. A factory-made pop star she is not. What a fabulous invitation to lean into the experience and dance away the aches of the shittiest year in recent memory. – Kiel Hauck

2. Taylor Swift – folklore

Releasing one career-best album is a crowning achievement for any artist, but to deliver two within a year is something special. Swift’s surprise album folklore perfects her ability to tell a story by blending personal stories and fictional characters in such a way that it’s nearly impossible to tell which is which. Folklore excels as the perfect representation of who Swift is as an artist by stripping away everything that we thought made a Taylor Swift album—the glamorized production values, over-the-top choruses and the electrifying pop elements that have punctuated her recent albums. At its base level, folklore is an indie album of sweet songs (“mirrorball”), but the songs are intimate, intricate pieces of art with as much depth and scope as a fleshed-out pop hit.

Unafraid of the silence between notes, folklore puts the melody and story first and foremost. The album strips away all expectations fans had of who Swift is as an artist by showing them something better. Soft, sincere and honest even when fictional, Swift has reinvented her career by stripping her music to its essentials and finding just as much, if not more, meaning in each song (“mad woman”, “betty”). – Kyle Schultz

1. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher

This year’s top album was actually quite a difficult and personal debate for me, but after a lot of reflection and back and forth, the bell rang and I lifted Phoebe Bridgers’ hand as Punisher was declared the winner. Her gentle delivery and poignant writing was a welcome break for me this year, a year when I’ve been so up in arms about — well, just about everything. It gave listeners something to direct their sadness and confusion at for 40 minutes and 37 seconds.

Phoebe didn’t shy away from the harsh reality of her life and her past in Punisher, and the raw honesty is what has kept me coming back throughout the latter half of the year. It takes a lot for me to consider an album as the best, and not only is it the best album of the year, it’s the best in Phoebe’s discography. She’s showed her maturity and individuality here, and that counts for everything in my book. – Nadia Alves

Honorable Mention

PVRIS – Use Me
Haim – Women in Music Pt. III
Lady Gaga – Chromatica
Blaqk Audio – Beneath the Black Palms
The Bombpops – Death in Venice Beach

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor

We have been blessed. We have been given a gift. The entirety of Petals for Armor is here for us to enjoy and drink in, and I am beside myself with how incredible it is. I wrote about the first third of the album earlier this year, and I didn’t know how the rest of the album would play out based on it, but it completely surpassed anything I expected and hoped for. It’s experimental, it’s exciting, it’s fresh. It’s Hayley.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor on Apple Music.

I spoke a lot in my first piece about the femininity I loved about the project. That concept is woven through the rest of the album in shows of vulnerability, strength, and the journey Hayley took to find peace after so many years. The album was split into three parts purposefully, but ended up coinciding with the changing seasons both literally and metaphorically. The first part of the album made me so upset for Hayley and the turmoil she faced, but by the end of Part III, it’s evident that it’s in the past. So much of womanhood is putting up a front for others and always being available and subservient, but Hayley has managed to find a balance here, specifically showcased in “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”. It’s uplifting and inspiring.

The middle of the album (Part II, technically) ended up being my favorite. I identified heavily with this transition period she found herself in. She’s over the rage from Simmer” and has moved from the past. I feel like so much of human life is spent in that transition period. We go from the naivety of infancy and childhood to the confusion of teenage years to the heaviness of adulthood. As someone who’s still kind of in that teenager-to-adult transition and, quite frankly, moved from the former to the latter rather quickly, the middle of the album, especially “Why We Ever”, hit me harder than the rest. 

The final third of the album is gorgeous. It’s a culmination of everything she’s experienced thus far. It’s beautiful to see her at this raw place where she’s honest about where she’s been and how she got past the harder times of her life. She’s been able to begin shedding the parts of her that she’s ashamed of, and ends up bringing us the most hopeful body of music in her career.

The visual interlude she released between the “Simmer” and “Leave It Alone” videos is the album perfectly packaged up. She has been in a cocoon for so long, dealing with the decisions she’s made in her life, and she finally has been able to emerge as something bright and refreshed. Hayley has also done an insane amount of press over this cycle, and that’s not something we should take for granted. She’s more open than ever, and Petals for Armor is an invitation for us to be the same.

5/5

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Queue It Up: April 13, 2020

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve tossed some singles against the wall to see what stuck with us, but we’re back with three tracks that will hopefully add a little flavor into your quarantine soup. 

Twenty One Pilots – “Level of Concern”

First we’ve got a true quarantine track from Ohio’s favorite boys Twenty One Pilots. They released “Level of Concern” as a window of how this is making them feel. The track leans pretty far into their pop side, which is in stark contrast from their last album, the dark and heavy Trench. It’s bouncy and uplifting, and perfect for picking up the mood.

Hayley Williams – “My Friend”

Next up is another new track from Petals for Armor by our queen Hayley Williams (all hail), called “My Friend”. Let me just tell you again that this album is wrecking me by the day. I can’t wait for May 8th y’all. The latest drop is a great song about friendship and how it’s so vital to all aspects of life, but definitely here as a tribute to those who have been helping Hayley through these harder years. It’s another track that seems to be right release date, right time. 

Anchor & Braille – “Dangerous”

Finally, in every sense of the word “finally”, we  have the new single from Anchor & Braille. “Dangerous” is here and it’s blowing me away. It’s the first taste we’re getting of the new A&B album and it’s made me more excited than ever. It’s a soft pop track in the vein of 2016’s Songs for the Late Night Drive Home, and it’s a wonderful track about Stephen Christian and his wife being all in love and all that cute stuff. The album TENSION is set to release on May 22nd, and that’s another clue that May might be the best month of the year. Quarantine might end (fingers crossed) and we’ll have plenty of great tunes to jam to celebrate being free. 

The 1975, Lydia, and Microwave also released singles recently so there’s no excuse to be listening to the same old thing. Let’s stay strong and keep partying in our living rooms.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Review: Hayley Williams – Petals for Armor I

UPDATE: Petals for Armor is here! Check out our review of the full album.

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve heard from Paramore. They signed off on their socials in mid-December after completing the After Laughter album cycle and settled in for some much deserved time off. But it didn’t take long for vocalist Hayley Williams to announce on December 27th via Twitter that she would be releasing “something I’m going to call my own.” Fast forward to now and we have the first half of her’ solo project: Petals for Armor I.

You can buy or stream Petals for Armor I on Apple Music.

For all the talk over the years of how the world would change if Hayley went solo, I don’t think anyone could’ve seen Petals for Armor coming. A mix of the 80’s-influenced sound Paramore adopted in 2017 is here but it doesn’t overtake it. Hayley clearly used After Laughter as a bridge for this next musical chapter to get us used to a lighter pop sound. But make no mistake – this is a Hayley Williams production.  

The EP begins with the first single released on January 22nd, “Simmer”. Should I have written some Queue It Ups about the two main singles we got? Maybe, but I didn’t. “Simmer” is, in a word, scathing. We know a few details on how everything went down with Chad Gilbert and the end of their relationship, and we all know that Chad Gilbert is the definition of a scumbag, but hearing Hayley say that she would protect her children from a man like him is really eye-opening and devastating. And yet, through this anger, she asks how to still have and show mercy.

Through themes of her divorce, family struggles, mortality, and the confusion of beginning a new relationship, we have the underlying vein of femininity in Petals for Armor I. She sings about being at home in “Cinnamon”, my personal favorite track, and how she is unapologetically herself there. As a woman, it’s a refreshing project, like so much of Hayley’s past work.

To hear someone reckon with these feelings in society that tries to tell women to quiet down is both heartbreaking and reassuring. There’s nothing that makes me feel more beautiful than cleaning and decorating my apartment, as cliché as that may be. Pulling a cookbook from my stack to make dinner, dusting the trinkets on my TV stand as I think fondly of the person who gave them to me, or lighting a candle are the things that make me “me.” There’s such a lack of domesticity and hospitality displayed in our society and to hear Hayley highlight that allows me to feel pleasure in simply sitting down to read a book in the home that I’ve created for myself. It may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people but it’s the track that stood out to me the most.

I’m excited for this new chapter for Hayley, because I feel like she has been held down by a lot of things in her career. The second half of Petals for Armor is set to be released on May 8th, unless Ms. Williams has other surprises in store for us.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Podcast: The Rebirth of Hayley Williams

This week, a new EP from Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams titled Petals for Armor is expected to drop. After having time to sit with the first two official solo tracks of her career, Kiel Hauck and Nadia Paiva hop on the podcast to break down their thoughts on “Simmer” and “Leave it Alone”. They also discuss their expectations for the new release, what sonic direction they anticipate Williams taking, and how her growth as an artist over the past 15 years have led us to this moment. Listen in!

Like our podcast? Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts and be sure to leave a review.

What are your expectations for the new solo music from Hayley Williams? Share in the replies!

Posted by Kiel Hauck

Most Anticipated Music of 2020: Hayley Williams Introduces Petals for Armor

It’s no secret that the past album cycle for Paramore has been a rollercoaster. Between the highs of re-becoming friends with Zac Farro and the lows of her divorce from Chad Gilbert, Hayley Williams has really been put through the wringer. Like any artist, she’s taken these experiences outside of Paramore and transformed them to release her first official solo project, “Petals for Armor.”

We have only a project title, no single, no album confirmation, but that’s all right with me. We have a release date of ~something~ for January 22, 2020, along with some very cryptic posts on the Petals for Armor Instagram account she made for the occasion. The title for the project seems to refer to an interview Hayley did where she recalls being in a session and envisioning “flowers growing through her”.

As much as I’d love Paramore to continue on until the end of time, I’ve learned as I’ve grown up that it’s more important for artists to be healthy and that the art they create be honest and something they’re proud of. And more than ever, that’s something Hayley Williams deserves.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

Reflecting On: Paramore – Brand New Eyes

Oftentimes when I write these 10-year reflections, I’m coming at them as a person who fell in love with them years after their release. We’re finally coming up to some of the anniversaries of albums that have impacted me from the point of their release, and what better album to speak about first than Paramore’s brand new eyes.

You can buy or stream brand new eyes on Apple Music.

This is a deeply personal album for me, but then again, I feel like it’s a personal album for every Paramore fan. Whether the album hit you hard because of your own life or you were devastated at the fate of the band during the period of 2009 to 2011, there’s no question that this is the discography’s most important album. Sure, Riot! brought them international acclaim and made Paramore a household name. But, for me at least, it was brand new eyes that made me a true fan. 

From the beginning of the album, Paramore proved that things were changing in their sphere. In interviews and live performances the band conducted during the album cycle, the band was visibly distant and on their guard. Tracks like “Careful” and “Feeling Sorry” made it clear that there was trouble in paradise. As hard as that was for the band, both personally and professionally, they needed to release brand new eyes. It brought to light the things Paramore had been holding back throughout their career. We wouldn’t have the self-titled album or After Laughter if Hayley hadn’t made everyone in the band face the problems they were clearly having.

In preparation for writing this, I listened to brand new eyes a bunch. It’s totally nostalgic, but there’s still things I’m gleaning from it even now. I realize now that the way I see faith, love, friendship, and quite honestly, conflict resolution has totally been molded by this album. “Playing God” and “Turn It Off” were some of the first songs that kind of burst my perfect religion bubble. With this album, I finally found it okay to raise some questions about myself that I was afraid of acknowledging. I feel like it was kind of the same for Hayley. After releasing brand new eyes, she had let go of the idea that she needed to please everyone. Paramore was always kind of that quasi-Christian rock band, and I feel like they were finally able to drop that label and come into their own. 

Now that the sob story is over, the album also jams incredibly hard. It’s got some of Paramore’s best vocals, lyricism, and music. The band really put their all into it, almost like they kind of sensed it was the end of their first act. It took four years for them to release anything new, and quite honestly, it was so up in the air as to whether they would. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and we know the happy ending to the brand new eyes story is the fact that everyone was able to reconcile their differences for the most part. I think that’s why I still find it so easy to listen to. I know how it ends. Everyone comes home.

With Zac’s (very good) side project Halfnoise, and Hayley’s (very good) hair dye company, there’s no telling whether we’ll get another Paramore album anytime soon. In the meantime, there’s still things to learn and gain from listening to their past albums. “God knows that the world doesn’t need another band / But what a waste it would’ve been / Can’t believe that we almost hung it up / We’re just getting started”. On this 10-year anniversary of brand new eyes, I’m thankful that they didn’t hang it up.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.

A Night with Paramore on the After Laughter Tour

I have a concert bucket list. This may not be a surprise to anyone, but it’s true. Bands like Turnover, Pianos Become the Teeth and Switchfoot all made the cut and have been successfully crossed off. The band at number one? Paramore.

I’ve been unsuccessful in catching a Paramore show ever since I can remember, but I finally made it. I have now seen virtually every band I’ve ever wanted to see except for bands that are no longer active (My Chemical Romance *sigh*) and the new bands I find and become obsessed with (Off Road Minivan). I’m hoping to catch a Death Cab show later this year.

I don’t really know why I had never made it to a Paramore show. They’ve played Boston plenty of times since I’ve gotten into them but I’ve just always missed it. Usually it’s because of other shows or, if I’m being honest, because ticket prices are sky high. Well, June 20th rolled around and my schedule was free and tickets were approximately $35 (which, when Paramore is involved, is basically free). So I drove two-and-a-half hours to Gilford, New Hampshire, with lawn tickets in hand, prepared to have the best night of my life.

Soccer Mommy and Foster the People were the opening bands, but as stated above, the long drive caused me to miss Soccer Mommy and most of Foster The People’s sets. I got my ticket scanned to the sultry bass tones of “Pumped Up Kicks”. While we were waiting for Paramore to start playing, we heard through the pavilion grapevine that they were upgrading tickets for free. Instead of our lawn tickets, we ended up finding seats closer to the stage to watch Hayley and Co.’s set.

Paramore was incredible. Their concert experience is legendary, akin to fellow Fueled By Ramen acts Twenty One Pilots and Panic! at The Disco. Don’t know what that label is doing, but whatever it is, it’s right. Paramore opened with “Grudges” from their latest full length, After Laughter. It set the tone wonderfully and it was almost tear-jerking to hear Zac Farro, prodigal drummer returned home, sing the background vocal, “Why did we wait so long?” to Hayley’s reply of “To stop holding on”.

The setlist was a really great range of old and new tracks. Noticeably missing, per the usual post-2015, were any tracks from their first album All We Know Is Falling. A highlight was a re-imagined version of “crushcrushcrush”. I actually texted Kiel while they were playing it, saying they’d “After Laughter-ed” it. It had less of the punk sound and they added some 80s synths, which brought a cool new feel to what must be, at this point, an overdone track for the band to perform.

The acoustic portion housed another great set of choices. They played their BBC One cover of Drake’s “Passionfruit”, then “Misguided Ghosts” from 2009’s Brand New Eyes, and finished with “26” from the new album. It was, in a word, poignant. A lot of After Laughter’s songs are full of heavy content, and even though they disguised that aspect with energetic music, it was hard to ignore the evident pain Hayley feels when singing “Forgiveness”.

Another interesting choice was the addition of “No Friend”. This was a spoken word track on After Laughter performed by Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou. Paramore used it as both a jam session and a water break and it was basically epic.

There were several traditions that were kept. One was Zac’s performance of one of his side project songs, which is definitely worth checking out. The other was the choosing of audience members to finish “Misery Business”. These were things I’d only heard about and they were just as wonderful in real time. The band had a three song encore and ended with the lead single from After Laughter, “Hard Times”.

In short, it was the best night of my life. Completely worth the wait, but I left wondering why I hadn’t just gone for it sooner. I can’t wait until they come around again.

by Nadia Paiva

kiel_hauckNadia Paiva has been a music enthusiast since she can remember. Going to shows is her main pastime. The other is being upset when she can’t go to shows. This is her first official venture into writing about music. You can follow her on Twitter.