Paramore : This Is Why

best albums of 2023 so far Paramore

Sit down. We’re going to play a game. You remember this one. Put your hand over the name on the record. Avert your eyes from it. Press play. Don’t think, just listen. It’s good, right? Right? This is the same problem we run into with records by The Weeknd or, confoundingly, even Beyonce. An artist who has spent the past decade skewing ever closer to the kinds of sonic ideals places like us tend to favor get cast out more based on the name, the social image, a desire to be hip and to be cool that flies in the face of the fundamental truth of good criticism or, hell, even just good listening: is the record any good?

In Paramore‘s case, this has been solidified as a firm yes since at least their 2013 self-titled record. One could argue how much earlier than that it began; our fearless leader Jeff makes a strong argument for some interesting if then still-untapped potential in some of the post-hardcore riffs on Riot! while I tend to think the sharper pop songcraft and dialed in instrumental performances on Brand New Eyes are what began to point them toward a solid maturity. Regardless, it is undeniable that, by the self-titled record, it had finally happened. “Ain’t It Fun” still has a drum arrangement that has all the snap and swing to really drive a pop song and give it an honest to god danceable groove while “Future” plays at the broader sonic adventurism that the group would later indulge in to great success. From there, it’s all been uphill; After Laughter changed out the sharp pop rock songwriting for Afropop-infused mathy post-rock a la Talking Heads or David Byrne while, the missing ingredient, Hayley Williams’ two solo records added in a frankly superb Radiohead pastiche on her first and a solid post-Phoebe Bridgers country-folk on the second. So expectations, at least on my end, were high for this new Paramore record.

Credit to Williams, Taylor York and Zac Farro, Paramore’s career (and likewise Williams’ as a solo artist) has thus far been one of steady continuous improvement album to album, a rare feat indeed. This Is Why leans away from innovation in their sonic palette, a well-earned break given the sonic palette changes across the past several releases of these players, to instead focus on synthesis. There is a distinct Hüsker Dü-ism to “The News” with its refrain “turn off the news,” but here swapped out for a nervy post-punk anthem. Radiohead-isms abound, that particularly alternative approach to progressive playing, especially those ultra-rich and luxurious chords that Radiohead tend to deploy so effectively. Likewise, check the Foals riffing all over “Cest Comme Ca,” a tune which has all the bounce and tightly picked snap of any of those mid-2000s math rock/dance punk crossover acts.

The sensitivity and timbral focus was the throughline of Williams’ two solo records, one looking at the way art rock and the other how country-folk cinch up tight to the particular sound textures of their chosen electronic and acoustic instrumentation; that same level of attention and care is deployed here on these arrangements, which switch back and forth between feeling huge and feeling intimate but never feel cluttered. Anyone who’s messed around with mixing knows that’s a hell of an accomplishment, sometimes layering what sound like six or seven distinct guitar parts without crowding out the vocal, muddying up the rhythm section, snares and basslines still snapping clear through the mix. Williams as a vocalist remains on top of her game; ever since expanding her range beyond the pop-punk drawl and snottiness partway through her career, her capacity as an emotive vocalist has been unlocked, her performances here reading as sincere and unstained by the artifice of genre contrivance. Where before a Paramore record might have been typified by a single sustained type of vocal performance, she allows herself room to craft parts and approaches unique to verses or choruses, which helps make the dynamic shifts of these pieces really land.

It’s been a number of years since Paramore became a band that skeptics could full-throatedly endorse. There were concerns, I can understand, that perhaps their shift to more artful compositions, arrangements and performances was a contrivance, a gimmick. This Is Why should settle once and for all that it isn’t.

Label: Atlantic

Year: 2023

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