This article was originally published on Popjuice.
When Taylor Swift first announced sixteen hours ago that Folklore, her new album, would be available the next day, the internet went all sorts of wild. Not just because it seemed that this project would mark a return to her acoustic roots, but because Swift had never in the slightest attempted an album rollout in this manner. Sudden social media wipeouts, cryptic tweets fraught with symbolism, elaborate easter eggs. All these have almost become synonymous with the phrase “Taylor Swift album” over the years.
For these reasons, Folklore plays vastly different from all her previous projects, and lead single Cardigan does a great job of introducing listeners to the album. With imagery of vintage pianos and stardust, the song is representative of the sombre, introspective mood of Folklore, a sound that seemed uncertain for Swift to embrace having put out three albums that were characteristically pop.
With help from The National’s Aaron Dessner, indie darling Bon Iver and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, the album harks back to the Taylor Swift of old. Exile, which Bon Iver also features on, is an immediate standout track: a combination of Swift’s poetic lyrical mastery backed by piano and strings that were a mainstay on Swift’s earlier works.
Having gotten a fair amount of flak for her songwriting on previous album Lover (who could forget “Spelling is fun”?), Folklore is Swift’s declaration that she’s still got the chops. My Tears Ricochet, which occupies the spot of Track 5, known for being the most personal track on her albums, also features some of Folklore’s best lines. “We gather here, we line up, weepin’ in a sunlit room / And if I’m on fire, you’ll be made of ashes, too,” she sings in the opening lines. Swift’s breathy falsetto in the song calls to mind the similarly Jack Antonoff-produced Lover closer, Daylight. If anyone ever had doubts about “the old Taylor” being gone, perhaps she’s just been hiding in plain sight all this while.
Songs like August and Betty are classic, country-pop Taylor Swift. With Betty’s confessional, diary-like structure perhaps the closest we come to reliving the days of Swift’s stellar Fearless and Speak Now. Where these songs were reduced to deep cuts on Reputation and Lover, on Folklore they’re at the centre of its story.
But where the album shines most, and perhaps where Swift will be most lauded by critics, is for the new territory that she explores. Experimental tracks like Epiphany, Peace and Hoax are a breath of fresh air for the singer. On Peace, she sings about a love story in the public eye with her trademark lyricism: “But I’m a fire and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm / If you cascade, ocean wave blues come.” Backed by sparse production in these songs, Swift’s lyrics are what you focus your attention on. It’s a good thing then, that she’s a masterful storyteller, for these tales of folklore have not gone to waste.
By the time closer Hoax kicks in, you get a clear sense of what Swift is gunning for with this album. It’s a pitch for Album of the Year for sure, but more than anything, it’s a pitch to soundtrack a season of summer spent home. At 16 songs, it runs the risk of being bloated, in the way that Lover was. Yet, Swift’s priorities are different here. She’s in no hurry to go anywhere, and let’s be honest, neither are we. And for all the other hoaxes running wild in the world right now, Folklore certainly manages to be good at what it’s here to do: tide us over this cruel summer.
Photography by Beth Garrabant