Taylor Swift’s “Folklore” Reviewed
Here is why you are careful to be honest about your favorite artists: if Lover is a masterpiece what on earth is folklore? Taylor Swift’s best music since the first half of 1989 is also the place where the pandemic has caused her to release the first album since, maybe since Fearless, maybe since her self titled debut, where she hasn’t had her eye on how she was going to promote. The result is the place where sad girls meet indie Americana and beats them all at her own game.
Songs co-written with Aaron Dessner of the National and usual sparring partner Jack Antonoff, as well as co-produced by the two plus Swift, it is as if Taylor took a leap from the song she made with The Civil Wars, “Safe And Sound” into 2012, and like “Safe And Safe,” they are story songs of lost love including the hard break of “Exile” with Justin Vernon and the lesbian unrequited love of “Betty”. With her own love life happily requited for over three years, Taylor turns her attention to other people’s stories, especially young people, both from a distance and close up
Like the rest of us, Taylor has been sheltering at home and at the start of the pandemic she reach out to Aaron Dessner songwriter and guitarist for The National. Aaron sent her some music he had been working on and they went in and the songs flowed with complete ease. Eventually, Taylor included Jack into the work and they constructed 16 songs (17 if you include the CD and vinyl only track which I haven’t heard). Just yesterday I compared Bon Iver and The National unfavourably to sad girl singers like renforshort (here), and now they both join Taylor on a variant on sad girl.
If Taylor albums have colors (Red is obvious, 1989 is light blue, reputation is black, Lover is pinky blue… for some reason Taylor Swift isn’t a color, it’s a material: faded denim ), folklore is forest green, it is a Jung like lost in the woods album, dark Grimms fairy tales, and in one comparison to Lover, she retreats from the apex of her story last year her happily ever after, to tell the story of those who aren’t there yet.
Of course, there are the usual easter eggs -the “Cardigan” motif recurs, William Bowery who has been essentially proven to be her boyfriend Joe Alwyn co-wrote the traumatic break up “Exile” and the single sex heartbreaker “Betty,” for one and if you are so inclined,the easter eggs might be fun, look around they aren’t that hard to find.
On, what?, third listen through I can’t hear a clunker, all the songs are intricate and serious weaving of a short story-fairy tales-sad girls aesthetic without being mired in self-importance, and even after considering all the songs great, “the 1,” “cardigan” where she compares her love to a forgotten sweater under bed in a good way, and “Illicit affairs,” “invisible string” is where Taylor mentions green is among her best songs ever. “Exile” opens with a Justin Vernon singing which is so strange on a Taylor song. But where precisely is the dip? They are all my favorites. Where is the “You Need To Calm Down”? I can’t find it.
The songs exist in the solitary forest of the video, and while you can (and probably will) put them in playlists, it is better in context, where you can hear the instrumentation fill the piano based songs with gorgeous shading. As a singular piece of work, Taylor imagines folklore as the sharing of stories placed in the middle of a pandemic and a civil war; she doesn’t ignore her life during the pandemic, it is a crucial element, there is a tripling up: the singer, the sounds, and the pandemic, as though all she can do now is bear witness to the complicitness of romance.
I wonder how the album will sound a week from now? Or a year? I place it right behind Red and Fearless, and ahead of Speak Now (though there is nothing as irresistible as “Speak Now”), It bespeaks to an artistic vision that will likely remain a career high: of a piece, perfect for a theatre tour if she chooses, folklore is a tour de force, just like the video, she is so alone she gets sucked into the piano. That’s the fable at the heart of the matter: a fugue like statement to unity while one is alone, and dreaming of other people and other stories in the middle of a slow apocalypse, deep in daydream of other futures.
“In the middle of our walk of life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost” – Dante