The weird, the fun and the Paramore in Hayley Williams EP debut

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 2:21pm

Hayley Williams’ Petals for Armor I EP is great. If the name is recognizable, some might recall Williams’ time as lead singer for pop-punk band Paramore. Her debut EP is short and sweet, five tracks in all. But Petals for Armor I isn’t simply Paramore’s punk-angst refashioned for a new decade. Williams EP combines the signature high-energy of her trademark songs (think “Still into You”) with a dash of weird and a heap of fun. 

My time spent listening to Paramore was largely defined by the characteristic angst of puberty, middle school insecurity and chihuahua-style yapping frustrations with the world. You know, that pre-teen phase spent staring emotionally out the car window, pretending to be in a Kelly Clarkson music video. Petals for Armor I manages to salvage something worthwhile from the aforementioned cringe-fest: the satisfaction of calling out the world, and revelling a bit in our anger. I’m not saying that Paramore isn’t cool –– but I know that my own previous Paramore-days were decidedly not cool. 

Take the gut-punch opening lines of “Leave It Alone”: Don’t nobody tell me that God don’t have a sense of humor / Cause now that I want to live, well, everybody around me is dyin.” The biting, morbid humor recalls that absolutely delicious “take that!” of Paramore’s hit “Misery Business” or “Brick by Boring Brick.” But “Leave It Alone” is quiet. The “umph” of the lyrics doesn’t come from the blasting of drums or scream of the electric guitar, as with Paramore. Rather, Williams punch is as sobering as it is satisfying. The softly whispered confession finds catharsis in that fact that somebody finally said it –– no offense, God.  

Williams EP, however, isn’t just good because it strikes parallels to her classic hits with Paramore. In fact, Petals for Armor I is good because of how different it is. Williams has managed to fashion together sounds, feelings and styles in a Frankenstein manner that feels more alive than anything that came before it (or after). 

Take, for instance, “Creepin,' a song destined to become 2020’s “Monster-Mash.” You know all the “Sexy Vampires” will be sing-shouting this song at the clubs come October 31st. The song is undeniably a bit weird, but refreshing. Williams imaginative, spooky lyrics and her deep drawl strikes a vague echo of Marina and the Diamonds (think “Primadonna”). Beneath her haunting lullaby Williams alludes to the parasites of our lives that feast on our misery, “Oh just keep suckin’ on the memory of him.” 

“Cinnamon,” strangely enough, can’t help but feel reminiscent of Frozen 2’s “Into the Unknown.” Don’t worry, they’re nothing alike –– except for William’s haunting siren call that acts as a wordless chorus. For those that haven’t seen Disney’s latest animated release, Princess Elsa has a mind-blowingly awesome duet with an ominous siren call of her own. The song narrowly balances between comforting and warm (like cinnamon) and a tinge hair-raising. Perhaps it’s the belly-deep laugh that chases after her voice, sitting out-of-sight in the undercurrent of the song. 

The opening song, “Simmer,” is the most promising of what’s to come with Williams’ future solo work. The track starts off with layered sounds, adding on top of one another, like an engine slowly warming up. Immersed throughout are breathy gasps, reminiscent of Serge Gainsbourg’s infamously banned-by-the-Vatican “Je taime moi non plus.” Here, too, is Williams’ voice unmistakable as distinctly Paramore. “Rage is a quiet thing / you think you’ve tamed it / But it’s just in lying in wait,” the song shifting dynamically, whisper-soft then louder the next minute, mimicking the wavering control of the anger she sings of. The song features a unique call-and-response structure, Williams singing answered by robotic-like voices –– emotion versus reason, an unending battle. 

Petals For Armor I presents a seemingly irreconcilable contrast, one side soft and sweet, the other hard and unyielding. WilliamsEP is as beautiful, soft and alluring as petals; her words are as biting, assertive and powerful as steel armor. Williams has a knack for presenting the unexpected, twisting and weaving songs that, while impossible on paper, take flight with the life she breathes into them. Undoubtedly, whatever Williams delivers next will be just as hypnotic and soul-clenching. Whether it’s 13-year-old angst or the wacky misadventures of adulthood, I’m sure she won’t disappoint.