Paramore’s After Laughter captures the moment between rapture and its comedown, the glitter wiped away, left with skin rubbed raw. It’s a record, more than a decade into the band’s career, that not only exposes the sparkling pop that’s always lit Paramore’s songs, but also deals with the ache of growing up and growing apart. When Hayley Williams sings, “Tell my friends I’m coming down / We’ll kick it when I hit the ground” from the ’80s-tastic jam “Hard Times” at the Tiny Desk, the stark dichotomy is laid bare by the band’s stripped-down performance that still packs a small synth and Zac Farro’s drum machine into its Afro-pop-flecked textures.
Backed here only by guitarist Taylor York, “26” is Williams’ letter to a younger self, to still believe in dreams, knowing its costs. Paramore’s quieter songs have never quite shown this depth of understated devastation and determination, and Williams reflects that nuance in a voice that scales the end of the line, “And they say that dreaming is free,” with just the slightest trail of regret. These songs extend After Laughter’s themes, racing across the spectrum of hope, with “Fake Happy” as a soaring anthem to expressing your truest self (and calling out those playing pretend). At the Tiny Desk, the shimmering guitars and synths almost become tropical, as if the band’s all taken a big swig of Drake’s “Passionfruit” and started a lowkey jam among friends.