The journey into the woods continues on and brings out the surprise album of 2020. COVID-19 lockdowns, isolations brought time of reflections, experimentation and one of the year's most acclaimed albums in folklore. To expect Taylor Swift to simply sit on the laurels and let it simmer for a few years before her next effort simply don't know her when given the spare time. Consider this the full realization of a transition made
possible by folklore
, to go from crafting catchy, catchphrase pop songs to the more nuanced, multi-layered understatedness of alt-pop/rock. You hear it all over the place, where she continues her collabs with Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver...throw in her frequent contributor Jack Antonoff and her boyfriend Joe Alwyn.
Taylor explains as part of her motivation behind evermore
“It feels like we were standing on the edge of the Folklorian woods and had a choice – to turn and go back or travel further into the forest of this music,” she writes. “We chose to go deeper in.”
To go track by track of the album would be simply a disservice to how well-crafted and executed it is; simply put, Evermore is the evolution of both the sound and songwriting of Taylor Swift. To go from her country roots to social media ready clapbacks to bubbly, sunny pop to uncensored indie alt-pop/rock has been quite the journey and this hour long jaunt further into the woods feels like the complete end result of the evolution.
One may argue that evermore
should be seen as the wilder, younger sister of folklore
and it definitely sounds true. Folklore is comparatively tighter, more controlled and Evermore seems to be a bit looser and plays more with the evolution of genres. And the playing of genres is very evident in "no body, no crime" featuring HAIM, which is probably the hardest playing off all the tracks. The country-revenge tinged song has an oddly breezy element to it despite the biting and dark lyrics, most of whom sits in the final stanza that builds up to the bloody end.
On a track like "coney island," featuring Dessner and his group The National, the peak of the experimentation is evident in the oddly placed meter, layered with the introspective lyrics observing life and the raw stripped down vocals of both Swift and Dessner. "cowboy like me" might be a preview of what's next for Taylor, perhaps a foray into blues combined with her songwriting master class? Maybe? Dessner's signature is front and center in the second to last track "closure," taking the aformentioned "coney island" and making it a 3 minute experiment in lyrical and vocal delivery with Dessner's desire to play with the meter timing. We'll let you the listener decide if that was an experiment well done or not.
Then there's "dorothea," proving that even with the genre shift and evolution, one of her strongest points that she honed in Lover is her ability to storytell in just under 4 minutes. This time in "dorothea," she spins a sweet but also melancholy story about a boy
whose high school crush left the small town to chase the big dream in Hollywood. "champagne problems" also does the storytelling trick too, think of it as an uncensored, unfiltered coda or epilogue to "Love Story." And finally to cap her storytelling skills is the deeply personal "marjorie," a song about her grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, an opera singer; the song is accompanied by Finlay's operatic vocals at the end.
For those who wanted vintage Swift, the closest you will ever get is "long story short," featuring a more subdued version of the bubbly, breezy, syncopated beats from 1989, handing evermore that 80's vibe you might have been hoping for. Except again, far much more subdued than the glossy version.
Previous track "gold rush" also shows she hasn't forgotten those vibes either. Both would have been biting, Autotuned, shiny banger hits in a lifetime ago for her.
Finally, Swift captures all of 2020 and its enduring struggles in the title track and album ender. Accompanied with the piano tickling from her boyfriend (credited as William Bowery), Swift waxes about the year, admitting she's "been down since July" and always ending with the word of the title track. Then we
get the distinctive and signature fron Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, which are amplified by Alwyn's piano playing and then the rest of the arrangement slowly builds up, bringing pessimism into hopeful optimism.
What a way to end the biggest surprise album of the year. There's really nothing left more to say other than, LOVE IT.
Alan Ho is the co-founder, CEO and Chief Publisher/Webmaster of Musiqtone.com. In between his IT guy duties in his day job, watching CW superhero shows, rooting for the Cubs and his alma mater Purdue, he manages to find time to review albums, make an infrequent sit-down in the Hot Seat and go cover a show or two. Tweet him at @atrain2324, he tweets, therefore he tweets.