Taylor Swift’s eighth studio album, ‘Folklore’, has acted as a constant cosy companion over the past few months. Her astonishing collection of indie-folk songs was a soothing accompaniment to a terrifying year – musical comfort food filled with vivid storytelling that offered brief moments of escapism.
While the rest of the world was busy baking banana bread and on endless Zoom quizzes, Swift was secretly working on the record, teaming up with The National‘s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, alongside long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff and boyfriend Joe Alwyn (under the pseudonym William Bowery). She cast aside her usual meticulously planned album campaigns and instead unceremoniously dropped the album with less than 24 hours’ notice.
With its follow-up, ‘Evermore’, also announced mere hours before its release, Swift has said that she “travels further into the forest” of the “folklorian woods”. While Swift albums of the past have largely existed as self-contained ‘eras’, the music and process of ‘Folklore’ inspired further songwriting.
This is a “sister record” to ‘Folklore’, and there are immediate similarities between the two. Once again, it’s largely produced by Aaron Dessner (he has a production credit on all but one song), who this time around wrangles his bandmates in The National (they are officially featured on ‘Coney Island’ and pop up with instrumental and arrangement credits throughout). Swift’s other ‘Folklore’ collaborators all appear too. While ‘Evermore’ also sees Swift continuing to write stories from a third-person perspective, these two records certainly aren’t twins.
If ‘Folklore’ is an introspective, romantic older sister, ‘Evermore’ is the freewheeling younger sibling. ‘Folklore’ was Swift’s masterful songwriting spun through a very specific sonic palette; ‘Evermore’ feels looser, with more experimentation, charm and musical shades at play. The new album reaps the rewards the stylistic leap of faith that ‘Folklore’ represented, pushing the boundaries of that sonic palette further still.
She plays more with genre here, too. ‘No Body, No Crime’, which features the Haim sisters, is a full-blown country revenge song that ends in the murder of a philandering husband, breezily cramming the sort of story you’d find in a David Fincher film into a matter of minutes.
Elsewhere, ‘Closure’ is filled with weird time signatures, taking Dessner’s distinctive production in a more experimental direction (as heard on The National’s 2017 album ‘Sleep Well Beast’). Then there’s ‘Cowboy like Me’, a rootsy blues-laced number that features backing vocals from Mumford & Sons‘ Marcus Mumford and wouldn’t feel out of place on Lana Del Rey’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’.
On ‘Dorothea’, dancing piano lines accompany the story of a lovelorn boy whose high-school sweetheart left to try and make it in Hollywood; the song boasts vocal melodies that could have appeared on her self-titled 2006 debut. The twinkling ‘Champagne Problems’, with its lyrics about a rejected marriage proposal’, comes off as a sibling to Swift’s 2008 mega-hit ‘Love Story’.
The most striking difference between ‘Folklore’ and ‘Evermore’, though, is that, occasionally, the new album sees her reaching for fizzing pop heights again. Both ‘Gold Rush’ (co-written with Antonoff) and ‘Long Story Short’ add a layer of ‘1989’-style gloss to the proceedings, imbuing Swift’s ‘folklorian’ sound with a dash of the ‘80s-inspired synth-pop that coursed through that 2014 album. Both tracks feel like they could explode into a banging, stadium-ready chorus if placed into the hands of pop master-producer Max Martin chorus, but instead pull it back at the last minute and favour subtlety.
Swift’s pithy turn of phrase and vibrant yarn spinning are still front-and-centre on ‘Evermore’. ‘Gold Rush’ uses typically Swiftian lyric techniques, with the words free-flowing like a waterfall, emphasising the heartbreaking details: “And the coastal town / We wandered round / Had never seen a love as pure as it / And then it fades into the grey of my day-old tea”). Meanwhile, ‘Ivy’ depicts somebody’s shame at falling in love with another despite being married, employing rich metaphors: “I can’t / Stop you putting roots in my dreamland / My house of stone / Your ivy grows / And now I’m covered in you”).
There are some personal moments, too – see ‘Marjorie’, a song about Swift’s opera singing grandmother Marjorie Finlay, which elegantly depicts the knotty guilt that’s so often tied up with grief (“And I complained the whole way there / The car ride back and up the stairs / I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be”), accompanied by backing vocals courtesy of Justin Vernon and a recording of Finlay’s operatic vocals.
The album finishes with the title track, a beacon of hope in the shit-show that is 2020. Opening with a simple piano accompaniment courtesy of William Bowery/Joe Alwyn, Swift honestly reveals that she’s “been down since July”, later adding: “I had a feeling so peculiar / That this pain would be for / Evermore.”
Midway through, though, as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon joins the fray with his devastating signature howl, the fog starts to lift. Euphoric instrumentals erupt as Swift finally concludes: “I had a feeling so peculiar… This pain wouldn’t be for / Evermore”. It’s a sentiment of hope for the future to finish a pair of albums created in the mess that has been this year.
Release date: December 11
Record label: Republic