On Paramore’s 2017’s ‘After Laughter’ album, Hayley Williams had a brutally honest reckoning with the past. She mused on depression, hopelessness and her band’s extremely storied past, letting her mask (purposefully) slip for the first time over music that continued the band’s trajectory towards pop euphoria.
As with anyone who’s been in a band since they were 16, though, external preconceptions persisted with regards to the band’s rockier emo roots and the notable departures of multiple members across the past decade, as if she was having her ankles grabbed while she tried to drag the band into a new era.
It’s not too much of a surprise, then, to see her emerge with a solo project a few years later, and on first single ‘Simmer’, the sense of freedom is palpable. A dark and twisted pop curveball, the song throws any history in the bin and starts afresh down a path of left-field pop music; after a glitchy introduction, the pointed and amplified exhalation that leads the song into its dark groove says it all.
‘Simmer’ relies on subtlety as its greatest weapon, with Williams experimenting with vocal tones she’s been hiding for 15 years, skipping through a nimble, near-whispered chorus in stark contrast to her booming, hair-raising tones in Paramore.
Lyrically, too, she branches out, delivering a genuinely chilling second verse. “If my child needed protection from a fucker like that man / I’d sooner gut him, ’cause nothing cuts like a mother,” she sings, with the sharp delivery of the curse word the only time her voice rises above being languid and reserved in the whole song.
The pop sensibilities of latter-day Paramore are loosely felt on ‘Simmer’, with the verses skipping along with the same bounce as ‘After Laughter’, before they proceed to head down a darker path.
The main feeling here, though, is of newness, and ‘Simmer’ serves as a clean slate that shows Hayley Williams to be capable of producing a whole different kind of wonder.