For most artists, releasing new music during a pandemic would be next to impossible, and terribly daunting. For Taylor Swift, it appears a breeze, as she has now released not one, but two quarantine albums this year.
Swift’s ninth album, evermore, was announced in the early hours of Thursday, December 10, with a letter from Swift to her fans explaining that it is her gift to them, celebrating her 31st birthday and providing solace for those who are having a harder time than usual this holiday season.
Fans were left scrambling with excitement across social media, exclaiming their shock and joy, “claiming” songs, predicting their meanings, and counting down to midnight eastern time to both hear the new release, folklore’s sister album, and tune in to a new music video premiere [“willow”] on YouTube.
With anticipation high, and the bar set by Swift herself five months prior with the release of folklore, many wondered if she would be able to outdo herself. Needless to say, she absolutely has. evermore is a masterpiece album that is successful as a standalone as well as an accompaniment to folklore.
Spun from golden thread, the album weaves tales of shattered hearts and relationships, grief and growth, unrequited love, and so much more into a tapestry meant to keep both veteran fans and novice listeners warm through this chilly period of time.
The album begins with the oh-so-inviting “willow,” a track that feels delicate and folky (how fitting) as it winds up with an understated acoustic melody. The gentle, twinkling guitar sets the tone to be something magical, transporting the listener into a fairytale. Swift’s chiming vocals are luminous as she introduces the listener to a love story that very much parallels “cardigan,” the first single of folklore.
The narrator explains that she was hardened on the surface when she met her suitor, but quickly melted as their relationship progressed. This appears to be an ode to Swift’s long-time boyfriend Joe Alwyn, and a darling one at that. Between the magic in the melody and the chorus that is bound to stick in everyone’s head – The more you say, the less I know / Wherever you stray, I follow / I’m begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans, that’s my man – “willow” is guaranteed to be a fan favorite for years to come.
Swift continues to captivate her audience through each song. In some, she uses wild plot twists [in “champagne problems,” a rejected proposal; in “no body, no crime”, infidelity that leads to not a single, but a double murder, etc]. In others, it is her hints at sister songs that grab the swifties’ attention. Many songs on evermore mirror lyrics of those on folklore – i.e. “Where’s the man who’d throw blankets over my barbed wire” in the aching and crooning “tolerate it,” in connection to “Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire” in “invisible string.” And then there is the fact that every song is led by a symphony of sound: violins, acoustic guitars, pianos, synths, and everything in between can be found across the myth-drenched and folklorian evermore.
It is hard to identify any low-points in the album, quite frankly. Upon first listen, however, it may take some deep focus for casual listeners to stay attentive, as some songs, such as “champagne problems,” “‘tis the damn season,” and “happiness,” are sonically very similar at the root. This is not necessarily a negative quality to have – consistency is to be admired, and is expected when an album is cohesively written and produced by the same group of people (in Swift’s case – herself, Aaron Dessner of The National, and Jack Antonoff of Bleachers, Fun.).
Dessner and Antonoff are both substantial contributors to the evermore’s success, especially in relation to folklore, as both are familiar with Swift’s writing style, intent as a musician, and goals with each release. Those who have listened to both folklore and evermore will most-likely be able to pinpoint who helped to produce each song, especially if they have seen Swift’s recent live-performance documentary, folklore: the long pond sessions, currently streaming on DisneyPlus.
Antonoff’s notorious ‘80s-style, synth usage, and liveliness can be perceived easily on “gold rush.” On the track Swift sings in a gossamer, light tone over shimmering instrumentals before shifting into a sharp, almost-staccato style in simultaneously with a very fast-paced, defined pop beat. A formula for success that sounds effortless but refined, the song shows both Swift and Antonoff’s abilities to create an indie-pop track appealing to the masses, but without sacrificing depth.
Similarly, Dessner’s production style on Swift’s songs has become very recognizable. In a prior interview, he said that he started Swift with a very neutral drone that she would build on to create the framework for the track “peace.” It appears he may have done the same for a few of the songs on evermore, because they all hold their own, and are to the point and well-refined. A drone moves between a few simple notes as it plays softly beneath echoing piano keys on “marjorie,” a beautiful tribute to the songstress’s late grandmother, and her straight-forward and kind-hearted lyrics tie the song together without any smoke and mirrors. A commonality between folklore and evermore: minimalism made grand.
Swift herself knows her end goals crystal clear, and it shows. Storytelling has always been her strong-suit, and this album is almost fully composed of deeply twisting and winding and captivating stories. It is the way she chooses to incorporate different elements into these stories truly makes them stand out among one another, however. Incorporating other artists into her stories gives them a power beyond belief, and is one of the many ways she highlights her skill-set throughout evermore.
HAIM, the rock-trio composed of sisters Danielle, Este, and Alana, were the perfect choice to support Swift on wild-west country song “no body, no crime.” The track is true-crime inspired and murderous, drenched with feminine rage over a relationship gone awry, a missing wife, and a husband who is clearly to blame. The HAIM ladies sing the introduction to the track in unison, while Swift narrates as the relationship falls apart. Through the song, the narrator’s friend Este (a nod at the Haim sister herself) goes missing, and the narrator (Swift) and the other two Haim sisters seek out revenge with a murder of their own… suspense builds in this killer country number that sucks the listener in so thoroughly they feel as though they are helping commit the crime. Of course Swift chose to feature her long-time friends, who are proudly an all-female band that tend to give most male artists a run for their money, to sing alongside her on this epic tale about a crime of passion.
Comparably, Swift made the right choices with where to incorporate The National and Bon Iver on this album. The National’s indie sound, and vocalist Matt Berninger’s romantic and rustic voice, made them the perfect fit for “coney island,” another tale of heartbreak and woe where the narrator reminisces over a lost love and the regrets that come with that. Likewise, Bon Iver vocalist Justin Vernon made his appearance on the title track, “evermore,” where he and Swift sing to one another in the form of a conversation, reflecting their performance on “exile,” an extremely well-received hit from Swift’s folklore. When she knows who to bring in to exemplify the emotions conveyed in each song, it shows, and it is a smash.
As a whole, Swift’s use of everything from romantic melodies to tales of trauma and drama to lyrics focused on details like “opal eyes,” [from the song “ivy”] makes evermore incredible. Very few artists manage to continuously take their prior releases and outdo them, but Swift does just that, and will more-than-likely never stop doing that. evermore is sixty minutes well spent, and well worth the listen.