On announcing her 9th album evermore, Taylor Swift admitted that her musical process took a drastic left-turn this year. But perhaps that was inevitable. This year, there wasn’t the usual sonic and thematic overhaul that accompanies every Swift album. The 31 year old felt “there was something different with folklore“. That album was the result of happenstance and serendipitous coincidence, emerging at the end of summer as the perfect companion to the encroaching sweater weather. If not for the pandemic it probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day. And if not for folklore, we wouldn’t have evermore. Recorded at Aaron Dessner‘s Long Pond studio like its predecessor and companion, evermore sees Taylor Swift allowing herself to stop and rest a tad longer than she would normally. In the ensuing five months, sounds have matured, voices have harmonised, stories have brewed, and Taylor Swift has crafted some of the best music of her career.
The front cover of the album has Swift standing with her back to us, presumably looking pensively upon the thick woodlands that stands before her. It’s a fitting image, as Swift herself described the process of being holed up with the same creative people and exploring the same sonic universe as being like exploring the “folklorian woods” that she had stumbled upon when writing and recording folklore. Much like the inner depths of a forest, the music here is comparatively wilder than on folklore, and freer to boot. ‘no body, no crime’ is a winking, woozing country number which sets its tale of adultery and murder against the backdrop of a chunky bassline, plenty of harmonica, and backing vocals from Danielle and Este HAIM.
Meanwhile, ‘long story short’ is as much of a pop song as we’ve heard from Swift since 2019’s Lover. Its percussion is ubiquitous of the National, with Aaron Dessner and Bryan Devendorf working the machine and the kit respectively. It’s propulsive yet erratic, and sits perfectly over the top of Bryce Dessner‘s orchestral arrangement. As on folklore, you might think that it was a National song with a Taylor Swift feature.
The whole band feature on the gorgeous ‘coney island’, which sounds like it was written with Matt Berninger in mind. It’s all penitence and apologies over wistful guitars and strings. Elsewhere, there’s an abundance of backing vocals from Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon (whose full feature at the album’s close is a definite highlight), as well as vocals from Marcus Mumford, and lyrics from Swift’s boyfriend Joe Alwyn. In prolonging her stay at Long Pond and inviting some new faces to bask in the warmth, evermore succeeds in heightening the sense that what Swift has discovered this year is precious, rare. These are two albums that we are lucky to be hearing, and they should be cherished.
As always, Swift’s inimitable storytelling style is on full show here. Songs like ‘happiness’ or ‘coney island’ swell under the weight of Swift’s semi-autobiographical love and heartbreak. Meanwhile ‘cowboy like me’ transports listeners to worlds populated by fictional people who somehow feel as real as anything. But it’s all tempered and coloured by the company she keeps; they all make their presence felt. And having more friends around to share in the music gives this record a more self-assured feel to it. Like everyone’s had time to gel, to get to know each other.
Swift has said that writing folklore felt less like she was departing and more like she was “returning“. This is certainly the album that comes closest to the folk-pop style of her teenage years. And it makes sense that this year was one in which Swift might have a homecoming. But, since discovering this place on folklore, Swift has had time to make a house into a home. We should be thankful that she stumbled upon the “folklorian woods” this year. And we should be thankful she stopped in for as long as she did.