mon 10/08/2020

Album: Taylor Swift - folklore | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Taylor Swift - folklore

Album: Taylor Swift - folklore

Lowkey lockdown storytelling to save your summer from one of pop's brightest stars

Taylor may not go fully into the weeds, but there's plenty to dig into here

When she announced her “surprise” 8th album on social media this week, Taylor Swift described its subject matter as a combination of “fantasy, history and memory” told with “love, wonder and whimsy”. For the listener, this hits home around track three. “The Last Great American Dynasty” tells the story of Rebekah, a “middle-class divorcée” who marries a heir to the Standard Oil fortune and spends her widowhood - and inheritance - on boys, ballet and annoying the neighbours of her Rhode Island mansion. And then? “It was bought by me,” sings Swift, turning the song’s misogynist refrain of “who knows, if she never showed up, what could have been” on herself and the wild 4th of July parties of her “squad goals” days.

The flamboyant Rebekah Harkness - hard drinker, ballet patron and leader of her own “Bitch Pack” of mid-century Instagram influencers, whose ashes were interred in a diamond-encrusted urn designed by her friend Salvador Dalí upon her death in 1982 - is one of many characters, some fictional, some not, whose stories and legends intertwine with Swift’s own on the aptly-named folklore (and yes, she did in fact purchase the Harkness ‘Holiday House’ in 2013). Written and recorded in isolation with Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner of The National sharing production credits, folklore is an unexpected treat in the middle of a disrupted summer, one whose sepia-toned colour palette and muted production only adds to its magic.

Of course, given the songwriter, you won’t be surprised to learn that most of Swift’s new stories are love stories: about past loves, true loves, young loves, illicit loves. A teenager makes a Hail Mary pass on an ex-girlfriend’s doorstep, dressed in her old cardigan, while the third side of their love triangle watches that one summer when first love makes you feel older than you are “slip away like a bottle of wine”. The ghost of a fallen woman serenades her tormentor as she watches her own funeral, admitting that she “didn’t have it in myself to go with grace”. A thirty-something revisits the passions of her star-crossed “roaring 20s”, singing that “the greatest loves of all time are over now”. And when the drama burns itself out with “our coming of age has come and gone”, what’s left is something to look forward to - even if settling down with a pop star means “the rain is always going to come if you’re standing with me”.

Churchlike piano, train-track skip-beat percussion - programmed, on some tracks, by The National’s Bryan Devendorf - and melodic experiments stray from the radio-friendly pop sheen of much of Swift’s recent work: even the tracks produced by Antonoff, who helped Swift develop her sound through the country-to-pop transition from 1989 onwards, share that hazy magic. Of course, a Dessner production credit and Bon Iver co-write (“Exile” which, despite the beauty of Justin Vernon’s backing vocals, shares a little of the sore-thumb DNA of previous album collaborations with Gary Lightbody and Ed Sheeran) does not an indie album make: only “Seven”, which calls back to Lover oddity “It’s Nice to Have a Friend” in its childlike subject matter and sparse yet grandiose piano; and the Imogen Heap-esque “Epiphany”, which tangles the wartime experiences of Swift’s grandfather with current day medical concerns and what, I like to imagine, is imagery from a lockdown spent binging prestige television dramas curled up with the love of your life, find her properly in the weeds. But if this is the start of her generation’s finest songwriter breaking free of the pop promotion cycle, I’m absolutely here for it.

Below: watch the Taylor Swift-directed video for "cardigan" (the cardigan is, of course, available to purchase)

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