On her debut album Wilted, Paris Jackson presents a collection of profoundly personal stories, each song masterfully rendered in her mesmerizing voice. With a poet’s grasp of detail and penchant for free-flowing narrative, the singer/guitarist/songwriter documents a particularly painful moment in her recent past, as well as the life-changing transformation that followed. Working with Manchester Orchestra singer/guitarist Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell, Jackson merged her lyrical storytelling with an unpredictable collision of alt-rock and folk, arriving at a sound that’s mercurial and spellbinding and endlessly transportive.
Over the course of 11 exquisitely composed tracks, Jackson illuminates her journey from sorrow to strength with a specificity that’s often heartrending. But when absorbed as a complete body of work, Wilted radiates a deep sense of wonder that Jackson traces back to her fascination with one of nature’s strangest phenomena: the possibility of rebirth from decay, as manifested in the life cycle of her most beloved plant. “I love mushrooms and what they represent, which is decay as an extant form of life,” says Jackson. “You take a wilted flower that’s deprived of sunlight and water and everything it needs, and as it breaks down and rots away, a mushroom will grow from that. A new life is born, and it’s an unconventional sort of life. Maybe the daytime the flower existed in wasn’t the right place for it to grow, but now it’s nighttime and everything’s neon and happy and so beautiful. This mushroom gets to live its best life.”
Building off a batch of demos she’d recorded on her own, Jackson created Wilted at Hull’s Atlanta studio with the help of his longtime collaborator/producer Dan Hannon. As a massive fan of Manchester Orchestra—her left arm bears a tattoo of the cover art from their 2017 album A Black Mile to the Surface—Jackson sought out Hull and McDowell based on the relentless imagination behind their output, and felt an immediate creative chemistry with both musicians. “Straight out of the gate we were all on the same page, and by day three we all started getting weird—but the exact same kind of weird,” Jackson recalls. “There were certain songs on the record where I told them, ‘If there’s anything you ever wanted to try in the studio before but felt like it was way too out there, just run with it.’ We were all so excited about trying new things, and we felt free to experiment with whatever we wanted.”
Like all of Wilted, the luminous lead single “Let Down” balances that unbridled experimentation with Jackson’s elegant sense of songcraft and gift for sculpting indelible melodies. A portrait of precarious longing, “Let Down” unfolds in a graceful convergence of textures inspired by the music of Radiohead (a factor Jackson lovingly nodded to by taking the track’s title from a cut on OK Computer). “That album is one of my favorites, and it was definitely a reference point for some of the sounds on this record,” she says. “I love how they combine acoustic and electric guitar and layer in a lot of synth, and how Thom Yorke will hit all the notes in his vocal range in just one song.” When matched with the dreamlike quality of her lyrics (“Head hanging down/Shredded evening gown/Eyes painted black/A tragic paperback”), the impact of Jackson’s own voice is doubly powerful, transmuting heartache into something impossibly lovely.
While much of Wilted embodies a heavy-hearted mood, the album opens on the unfettered hope of “Collide,” a gentle reverie whose tumbling piano tones and sweetly lilting harmonies capture the pure rush of falling in love. “I wanted to start out on a happy note, and then as the story goes on the hope starts to fade and you’re trying so hard to hold onto something that’s just falling apart,” says Jackson. An anguished plea for peace of mind (“I wanna hold my head up high/I want the truth/I want a goddamn lullaby”), “Repair” hints at the devastation to come, the track’s tender urgency intensified by its ingeniously crafted rhythms (“It sounds like chains rattling, but really it’s us shaking a giant box of tambourines,” Jackson points out).
With “Let Down” serving as the album’s centerpiece, the latter half of Wilted fully immerses the listener in its unsparing catharsis. On “Eyelids,” for instance, Hull joins Jackson for a hushed meditation on the unbearable pain of memory, their voices blending in a beautifully haunting duet. One of the album’s most exhilarating moments, “Scorpio Rising” speaks to the mind-warping effects of despair, building a potent momentum from its jagged riffs and wildly frenetic percussion (an element partly formed by sampling Jackson’s sharply inhaled breath). That volatile energy also infuses the title track to Wilted, a glorious epic whose spectral harmonies and shapeshifting sonic layers ultimately give way to a self-possessed clarity (“A new flower manifests/One that won’t need the sun…I’ll be my own sun”). And on “Another Spring,” Jackson closes out with a bright and soulful piece of folk-pop imbued with clear-eyed resolve (“I’ll rearrange and let my wounds shine through/Let my wounds bring another spring”).
In bringing Wilted to life, Jackson continually tapped into her fine-honed intuition. “The songs tend to come when I suddenly feel the need to sit down and play guitar,” she says. “If I ever try to force it, then nothing really happens. I’ll usually find a chord progression that feels good and then a melody that works with it, and the lyrics just happen on their own.” A lifelong singer who names such eclectic songwriters as George Harrison, Ray LaMontagne, and Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx among her inspirations, Jackson has embraced a deliberately free-spirited creative approach since penning her first song at age 13. “It’s never been an ambition of mine to find a certain sound or formula to stick to,” she says. “I know that my music is always going to keep changing with each new thing I make. I just want to try everything.”
With the release of Wilted, Jackson remains passionately focused on pushing forward in her artistry. “I experienced a lot of healing through making this record, and in an ideal world it would be amazing if people experienced a similar kind of healing from listening to it—but I’d rather leave it up to them to take whatever they want from the album,” she says. “I put so much of myself into these songs and got as raw and vulnerable as I possibly could, and we ended up taking them to a level that I never could have imagined.”