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TAYLOR SWIFT folklore gets 10/10


Taylor Swift
folklore
Universal

10/10

Taylor Swift took to twitter late last week to give less than a day’s notice for the release of her new album folklore. While it took press and punters by surprise, Swift was typically calculated in the release of the record (you don’t have video ready to go, 8 different coloured versions of the vinyl and various artwork across multiple packagings of the album, if you are doing things on a whim), with it’s announcement and release managing to kick Kanye West out of the current news cycle. No irony there.   

Swift announced that as her plans for 2020 were put on hold due to the pandemic, she had to pivot with her artistic endeavours for the year. As a result, she reached out to Aaron Dessner (the multi-instrumentalist and producer from the National) and asked him if he would collaborate on some songs. Dessner cleared his dance card and sent Swift a folder full of music that he had been working on. Swift returned fire with fully formed voice memos and the two realised that they were making their way toward an album’s worth of material. In the end, Dessner partnered Swift in the writing of 11 songs on folklore. 

Swift’s over-the-top, crystal clear pop sound has been kicked around in the dirt a little on folklore, with this collection of downtempo tunes embracing elements of electronica, dream pop and folk. Swift is often criticised for writing songs as if they are directly lifted from her diary. folklore finds her expanding her storytelling to include new characters as she expands her third-person narratives. The Last Great American Dynasty weaves the historical tale of Rebekah Harkness (Swift owns her former home), and gets extra credits for Swift’s use of the word ‘gauche’ in a song. 

Justin Vernon joins the album for the its most menacing tale of betrayal on Exile. While his most recent Bon Iver releases have seen him overdoing the falsetto, Vernon wisely chooses to use his deeper timbre during this duet. The layering of vocal tracks of the two singers means that this piano ballad delivers more with each listen. 

Swift has clearly been keeping an eye on musicians outside of the mainstream, as her appearance for Tiny Deck Concerts last year suggested. She borrows lyrics from Dashboard Confessional for Mirrorball, but it’s her tunes with long time collaborator Jack Antonoff (Lana Del Rey, Lorde) that are some of the finest here. Seven is a traditional sounding folk song where Swift delivers a vocal phrasing that is different to anything she has done before, while August sees her returning to the familiar territory of a love triangle, an irrepressible hook, and her crystal clear tones. 

Betty finds Swift revisiting her youth both in sound and subject (albeit that Tay circa 2020 is prone to a little more cussing). The acoustic country-leaning tune harks back to the feel of her Fearless-era songs, and the subject matter also revolves around high school relationships and the mistakes made. With all the decadence and bravado that surrounds Swift’s later output, it is easy to forget that she was a pop savant at an early age, with an innate gift of sharing a relatable tale.

folklore is the first Taylor Swift album that is eligible for the alternative charts. This will either upset the college crowd, or will see them stroking their chins with an ironic sense of appreciation for the mainstream. No matter what banner folklore chooses to be flown under it is a nuanced, wistful masterstroke. During uncertain times, folklore is the album that we needed, even if it may not be the album we deserve. 

CHRIS HAVERCROFT

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