Hayley Williams — Petals For Armor ANALYSIS & REVIEW
Hayley Williams’s first venture into solo work is quite a successful one, combining her expertise in finding hooks to engage the listener with an expansive, modern sonic palette that provides complete life and direction from start to finish. On the surface, this is just an outright fun listen. It exudes charm from its attention to detail in timbral combinations and catchy melodic rhythms, being a real treat for any modern listener who wants to groove for a bit. But it can also really grow on the more active listener and musical connoisseur types as well, being quite a bold fusion of different past, beloved styles with a very personal and contemporary edge, keeping you in a place of groovy stasis while building excitement for what’s around the corner.
It isn’t a very difficult work to get your head around. In fact, for the most part, it’s tastefully simple. Despite the large role that the sound itself plays in maintaining energy and moving the listener through a variety of settings, Williams still hinges the selling points of each song on her melodic ideas. The risk paid off, as she trusted her intuition and obvious influences to work hard on creating sung lines that have lots of great personality on their own while enhancing the overall mood. As I said earlier, melodic rhythm was a huge highlight. She did very well at finding engaging rhythmic patterns on all fronts, not just in chorus repetitions, to create a groove, sustain a groove, and apply the element of unexpectedness a bit. She did this by focusing a lot on off beat accents, mixing up rhythmic density (shorter and longer rhythms), and the particular beat on which a phrase began and ended. They weren’t the most eye-opening or gorgeous melodies I’ve ever heard, but they had good success maintaining energy and interest, which is a lot to ask for anyways.
Rhythm was not only a huge ingredient in the melodies, but in the countermelodies as well. Essentially, rhythmic manipulation was a constant that permeated the work and gave it the groove it went for. The entire band was on the same page as Williams, with great personable rhythmic flair in the bass, rhythm guitar, percussion, keyboards, and backing vocals to keep up the overall effervescence, even on the tracks with slower tempos and thinner textures. The bass and guitar were especially highlights, taking pages right out of 70’s and 80’s funk music to deliver lots of great countermelodic excitement through syncopation. Strictly harmonically speaking, the use of the subdominant chord IV as a secondary arrival point or jumping off point into a new phrase or section was also well done, being a bit of a staple throughout and something that Williams uses to stamp some songwriting personality with.
I feel like the album, while nice in its variety of dynamics and mood, really found its footing in the final 3rd (disc 3) in its unapologetic modern funk style. The last several songs on the album really nailed all the positives that had been hinted at beforehand but not necessarily made the focus. Again, I very much appreciated that there were several different focuses throughout the work, or else we wouldn’t have gotten such a cool, dark guitar-driven jam on the second song “Leave It Alone” or the gorgeous, bittersweet emptiness of the keyboard on “Why We Ever”, which might’ve been my favorite track overall. But the last third really found some good sustained success, coming off as the most effortless and genuine part of the work with its big focus on rhythmic and harmonic tactics to provide a nice uplifting experience in its simplistic charm.
There were a couple of duds on the work, comparatively speaking. The song “Creepin’” was the one that failed in its melodic selling point a bit, being rather slow and unable to grasp a heightened rhythmic motive, only attempting to portray a rather creepy atmosphere, which wasn’t altogether worthwhile. The song right after it, “Sudden Desire”, kind of threw out the album’s overall 20th century influence and replaced it with an early 2000’s throwback of pedal tone thrashing and high pitched emotional wails, which proved less successful as nothing else really took the reigns. That was the only low point of the work, with everything else making up for it to provide a truly enjoyable listen. It may not be super revolutionary or breathtaking, but it has a really strong core of fun, engagement, and thoughtfulness. It’s a great experience for any listener looking for a personable and accessible modern groove.