Taylor Swift returns with surprise 8th album; folklore.
Released: 24th July 2020
Label: Republic Records
Format: CD / LP / Tape / Digital
Taylor Swift is an unstoppable force. Since fully breaking the country shackles on 2014’s all conquering 1989, she has taken on the world with humongous stadium tours, an army of fans that are incredibly devout, Netflix specials, and a line of slickly produced albums that have been unique in their own way.
Reputation was a ‘darker’ pop album, whilst 2019’s Lover brought the colour back. A surprise announcement that folklore was to be released sent social media into a frenzy and brought with it a new Instagram filter! Taylor sure knows how to market a record. folklore comes out on many formats with a bonus track held back for 8 deluxe CD / LP editions (you can collect them all!).
From the cover of folklore you might be expecting Taylor Swift to have veered towards her one woman heathen folk metal era; it certainly evokes the bleak. Fear not though; there are no mythical tales of yore here. There is swearing though. Proper swearing.
With her country roots not completely lost, betty is where Taylor gets sweary. It will certainly resonate with her fans and no doubt they will be dissecting every word and sentiment for what it means; like every other song on folklore.
What is great about folklore is that it is minimal. Obviously, it is produced to the highest order (by Aaron Dessner of The National and long time collaborator Jack Antonoff), but an appearance from indie/folk overlord, Bon Iver, suggests the direction. All the song titles and the album title are stylised in lower case letters too; surely a nod to the low key feel of the album.
The piano twinkles throughout with Swift singing lamenting odes. the 1 and hoax bookend the album. They both bring the album full circle in their style. The former brings warmth and colour and sets you off on the journey through Swift’s latest era; and era that seems to be one of isolation and reflection…something that all of us can attest to.
cardigan is the lead single; it shimmers with a lo-fi beat with more comforting piano lines. the last great american dynasty moves the beat up to a canter but folklore is clearly an album that has been written at the piano with the downbeat in mind.
Bon Iver features on exile; one of many highlights on folklore. Justin Vernon’s voice is the perfect foil for Taylor. His 22, A Million album featured lush, layered vocal melodies that felt like a huge musical hug. Taylor Swift has clearly been influenced by that here. exile is emphatic in it’s climax. Rising piano and strings subtly erupt to produce an epic euphoria.
mirrorball uses more understated beats but again builds to a lo-fi crescendo. This is Taylor Swift’s indie album. seven is pure beauty; the Spotify video that accompanies the song shows Swift as a, I imagine, a seven year old. An ode to youth.
Like many of Taylor Swift’s songs, august seemingly recalls a lost relationship. There is a 50’s flourish in the guitar and strings that punch through the song. The guitar melody that features in peace is also wonderfully evocative. The song wraps its arms around you. Another slice of beauty.
epiphany is the true highlight of the album. Sombre, hymnal strings, are the bed for Taylor Swift’s excellent vocal performance that moves up and down her range. It’s an emotional piece of music; like all the compositions on folklore.
Whatever your feelings on Taylor Swift are, you cannot doubt her ability to put out different records. It would be easy for her to throw out pop records that sold by the bucket load but show no variation.
Yes she is surrounded by talented people that help bring her ideas to fruition, but the ideas seem to start with her and she builds her own vision. When I walked away from Manchester’s Etihad Stadium after witnessing the Reputation Stadium Tour, I was left in no doubt that Swift is a proper pop star and she loves it.
This is pop in a different way. You can envisage Taylor Swift playing concert halls with orchestras with folklore; the dominance will continue. Similarly, folklore would be at home in a smoky bar room.