Taylor Swift releases her surprise 8th Studio album folklore, changing pace with a settled indie-folk tone that highlights the singer’s skills in songwriting.
Taylor Swift has seemingly done the impossible; kept a new record completely secret and away from press and belligerent fans until the day before release. It’s a stark contrast to her usual huge promotional campaigns, and perhaps a signal of change within the music industry as more high profile artists such as Charli XCX and Drake follow a similar path of low-key, fast-tracked releases. This is, in some part, due to the changes forced upon the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s allowed the singer to focus on a new indie-folk direction that perhaps wouldn’t have happened if not for these difficult circumstances. folklore is Taylor drawing on her years of writing and recording experience and pouring it all into a subtle yet refined record.
The1 kicks off the more stripped back sound as gentle piano and rhythmic bass set the tone. As vocals sweep into a more settled and serious setting than perhaps fans are used to, lyrics based around strength and confidence are there to remind us that people all over the world are still continuing with normal tasks and normal thoughts, but also struggling with life. With subtle flits of choir-esqe backing, it gradually turns to typical Taylor-infused relationship issues against the laid-back atmosphere.
With the opener introducing the singer’s new indie-alt direction, you can really hear the ‘isolation’ that Taylor Swift, and all of us, have experienced over the harrowing months of 2020. Cardigan is a low and sultry effort that skulks along with gentle melodies before arriving at a rising yet pleasingly empty chorus. It’s the strength in controlling a track stands out here, instead of focusing on layers and beats. the last great american dynasty is a triumph of structure and skill in songwriting, with a steady rolling beat holding the line as Taylor relives the essence of her earlier country sound and wraps it with rising, folky undertones and a pop-influenced chorus.
With many of the tracks on folklore having input from The National’s Aaron Dessner, it’s given the record a different element of strength and dexterity that we haven’t experienced from Taylor before. seven shows off a more innocent and brightness to the artist’s vocals that fit perfectly amongst the twinkling piano tones relied on throughout, whereas, in stark contrast, exile featuring Bon Iver has all of the heartbreak and downbeat wordplay you could ask for against some sublime yet underplayed harmonising. Both artists are allowed to grow into the track as it continues and being the only named collaboration on the record, it’s a thunderbolt out of the blue that just works so well.
As the record progresses you become accustomed to the new sound from the artist and it begins to envelop you like a warm and satisfying hug. seven touches once again shows off a talent for lyrics of personal yet ordinary experiences that is a staple of the folk format. invisible string is another example of this. Set against plinking guitar with an addictive rhythm that comes alive in the chorus, it reveals more details of a lost love life and leaves us guessing who she’s talking about. epiphany then comes out of leftfield as a haunting buildup, long notes and an understated structure is perhaps only convoluted a little by a slightly overlong running time.
As we get to the end of folklore, it’s easy to forget that this is a relatively lengthy record. At sixteen tracks you get a fair slice of time to experience this new sound but it doesn’t feel like it’s overstaying its welcome, instead, it feels needed. peace is a fantastically contradictory track that shows the conflicting emotions of love and friendship: “I’m a fire and I’ll kick your brittle heart… but I would die for you in secret.” Set against a pulsating tone and flicks of country influence, it features some of the strongest lyrics and structures on the record making for an album highlight. Ending on hoax with just piano, vocals and a tiny hint of strings, the contemplative track is the perfect finish with an understated sound that builds on the downtrodden nature that the singer feels from struggling relationships.
Steeped in settled lockdown production, folklore is a beautifully created and inconspicuous record. Wrapped in an indie-folk headwind, it secretly layers in ideals of pop throughout with Taylor drawing more influence from her earlier country work than she’s done in years. With a constant story-telling nature, the album feels more natural and the input of Aaron Dessner has helped grow folklore into a dense yet accessible album that is up there with some of Taylor Swift’s best work.