Between the ongoing My Chemical Romance reunion tour and the fashion comebacks of black-and-white stripes and chains on baggy black pants, it feels like there’s an emo renaissance ahead for 2020. Further cementing this is a surprise solo release from Paramore frontwoman and everyone’s first crush, Hayley Williams. If the potential for a new My Chem album hasn’t already convinced you that you need to take a trip to Hot Topic and relive your youth, Williams’ “Simmer” might make you reconsider. “Simmer” is the first single off of Petals for Armor — her upcoming debut album as a solo artist — and with it alone, she’s proven she’s already stepped away from the Paramore sound.
“Simmer” is dark pop song littered with heavy breaths and a pulsating synth that give it a sinister edge. Williams’ familiar soprano is the only thing that makes it reminiscent of Paramore, but she plays with her voice some, appropriating the infamous “indie girl” voice made infamous by artists like Halsey. It doesn’t feel like Williams at the true vocal potential she’s displayed in Paramore ever since she was a teenager. It doesn’t have a place next to the eerily beautiful instrumental, one which could have easily lent itself to a memorable pop song that’d be quick to creep to the top of the charts in our current post-Eilish pop climate.
Still, it’s welcome and admirable to see Williams embracing a new genre and putting her own spin on it. Her influences are clear, as the song calls to mind the sounds of Alanis Morrisette and Radiohead with the twist of Williams’ distinctive voice adding her own flair. A bridge of blurry murmurs and the gloomy, inky synths call to mind Banks. Williams’ wavering but ever-strong vocals over the soft instrumentation is reminiscent of St. Vincent. Finally, the uniquely creepy synth heartbeat that pulses throughout the song — my personal favourite detail on the track, for how inventive and eerie it is — would find a home in one of Billie Eilish’s horrorpop “Bury A Friend”-esque tracks. Imagery of Williams running naked through a dark forest only lit with a hazy but bright red light only adds to the creepy factor; all of it makes for a beautiful, unique vision.
I will admit that I haven’t actively listened to Paramore albums since the days I was clamouring for band tees to show off on MySpace but, even still, music like Riot! showed her strengths and capabilities and tracks like “Ain’t It Fun” showed she only had up to go from there. Knowing Paramore means knowing Williams at her very best and, for a Paramore fan, “Simmer” might be a little bit of a disappointment. The thought of her taking on pure pop is an intriguing one and, while “Simmer” is quite strong for a debut, even the oldest of fans already know that she can do much better than this.
Still, Petals for Armor is a full length project that we have yet to see unveiled and “Simmer” is only a preview of what’s to come. If it’s merely a hint and not the best the album has to offer, then I’m very excited to see what’s ahead. Williams and dusky, jet-black pop will no doubt be an interesting mix, as her voice would normally not be what we’d hear from the unofficial sub-genre. It’ll be interesting to hear where her pop career goes because with this release — not great but not terrible — it’s up in the air. Regardless, “Simmer” still has the kind of sound that just nearly makes me consider going over-the-top with some Claire’s black pencil eyeliner again, but still holding back in hopes that a new MCR release will come along to fulfill my musical cravings the way “Simmer” couldn’t.