Taylor Swift asserts her place in indie-folk with new album “evermore”
Singer-songwriter and Nashville native Taylor Swift debuts another surprise album “evermore,” picking up the same storytelling thread of the uber-popular “folklore” release just five months ago
December 13, 2020
Remember that time Taylor Swift added a little magic to 2020 by unexpectedly releasing a soft and sentimental indie album with incredibly personal lyrics and dramatic storytelling through song? Wanna see her do it again?
Out of nowhere, Swift dropped her ninth studio album “evermore,” the surprise sequel to “folklore,” Dec. 11. To make a long story short (we’re funny, we know), the new album has saved us at the end of finals week just as its older sister saved us at the end of a long and depressing summer of quarantine isolation.
As has become tradition, we’ve gathered the ranks of The Hustler Life staff to report on Swift’s latest unexpected gift. Here’s the rundown, folks:
Swift promised that “folklore’”s sister album would welcome more dreamscapes, tragedies and epic tales of life’s lost and found love. The album’s lead-off track, “willow,” includes just this—rich and encompassing lust, love and intrigue into a tale of desire. The spellbinding guitar throughout the background melody takes the listener through a journey that is yearning, wanting someone to fall in love with you. Lyrics like, “I’m begging for you to take my hand / Wreck my plans, that’s my man,” illustrate pining and sacrifice, adding it to the magical melody. With a fantastical music video released as well, (including allusions to the Volturi—Twilight, anyone?) the song poses a transfixing, hypnotic start for “evermore.”
This song follows a narrative about a rejected proposal, which of course led fans to flock to the internet to post theories about a secret engagement between Swift and longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn. However, Swift addressed the rumors by saying that “evermore” is more fictional than based on reality. This sweet-but-melancholy tune tells the story of college sweethearts who have differing ideas about the future of their relationship. The characters may be figments of Swift’s imagination, but that does not prevent the listener from experiencing the heartbreak that this melody brings to life. The tempo starts off slow and speeds up towards the end, mimicking a racing heartbeat as the magical night starts to spiral.
Swift sings, “My mind turns your life into folklore,” in this dream-like third track of the album. This line not only pays a small tribute to “evermore”’s sister album but sums up the storyline of the song: the idealization and contradiction that comes with wanting someone that everyone else wants, too. Fittingly, the song begins with high-pitched, soft vocal stylings, giving an angelic quality to Swift’s voice. She alternates between this dreamlike sound and a crisp, deeper voice to mirror her contrasting thoughts of fantasizing her life with this man and facing the reality of the “gold rush” that would ensue if she pursued him. It’s all backed by a steady beat consistent with her new folk sound, but with steady guitar harmonies and introspective lyrics that are iconically and nostalgically Taylor Swift.
“‘tis the damn season”
Despite any assumptions you might pull from track four’s title, “‘tis the damn season” is not a cheesy Christmas song with cynical lyrics but rather a reflective account of past love. On “‘tis the damn season,” Swift narrates a love story that is rekindled during a hometown holiday visit. Swift faces the ghosts of love’s past that steer her towards conflicting feelings, as being in her hometown reminds her of old sweethearts that have been left behind in the course of pursuing their dreams. The song is about life’s what-ifs, and considers how much we can be impacted by those in our past. Featuring bare production and lush vocals, Swift sings, “And the road not taken looks real good now / And it always leads to you and my hometown.”
In track five, “tolerate it,” Swift’s vocals shine against a base note of background piano to create this melancholy album ballad. With its brutally honest recounting of a wife’s adoration reciprocated by indifference from her husband, this track flirts with the worst fear of anyone in a relationship: a slow and unattached fade of desire. Swift’s painfully specific details, “I wait by the door like I’m just a kid / Use my best colors for your portrait / Lay the table with the fancy shit / And watch you tolerate it,” are just too real that any listener can experience the destruction and cold detachment of growing apart. This song features one of Swift’s most devastating bridges which, unlike any of her previous chords that you might happily chant in the back of a car, feels more like a resigned last cry.
“no body, no crime” (feat. HAIM)
While Swift’s first few studio albums gave us an extensive collection of country jams, not even “Picture to Burn” comes as close to a true cowboy anthem as “no body, no crime.” It’s funky, it’s angsty and it’s full of the jealousy and mystery of any good spaghetti Western, but there’s no Clint Eastwood here, just Swift and the Haim sisters from L.A. pop rock band HAIM. Together, they weave a complex story about a wife murdered by her cheating husband and a friend who seeks vengeance at any cost. Through this original storytelling, “no body, crime” is the perfect example of the folk-tale side of Swift’s two latest albums, as she uses many of their tracks to branch away from her own personalized stories of love and loss and create intricate new ones about her own fictional characters. And because of its unique position as a cowboy banger on an indie album, it’s forced my brain into creating the neologism “cowboy indie.” Who knows? Maybe that’s the next big genre.
If you are looking for happiness, this song is not the one for you. Instead, hope might be the proper vocab to describe the feeling this song incites as Swift describes getting over a broken relationship. Swift draws parallels between her characters and the ill-fated love affair between Gatsby and Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Those who have read the classic novel will be transported to the world of 1920s riches with lyrics like “I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool” and “All I want from you is the green light of forgiveness.” However, unlike Gatsby, Swift’s character can see past the failed relationship into a future with happiness. In this mellow tune, Swift mourns the loss of a love that once seemed everlasting and acknowledges the special moments that still exist in her memory. Instead of dwelling on what could have been, she closes this chapter by appreciating this time in her life. She sings about reinvention and moving on to find new happiness while wishing her old love the same peace. Knowing Swift’s history, one can only assume that this song pulls from personal experience. While fans can certainly speculate about who Swift is referring to, it seems as though she is addressing a combination of past relationships and demonstrating her desire to focus on her current relationship. This song exemplifies Swift’s maturity and growth after the past several years.
On the album’s eighth track, Swift asks, “Do you ever stop and think about me?” Her old friend leaves town to chase her Hollywood dreams, and Swift reminisces about earlier days, noting how much things have changed since Dorothea found fame. “You got shiny friends since you left town / A tiny screen’s the only place I see you now,” she sings. Although the two friends have drifted apart, Swift wants nothing but the best for her friend and tells her that, “If you’re ever tired of bеing known for who you know / You know, you’ll always know me.” Despite Dorthea’s success and Swift uncertainty surrounding if she is “still the same soul [she] met under the bleachers,” (a reference to “You Belong with Me?”) Swift makes one thing clear: it’s never too late to come back.
“coney island” (feat. The National)
On track nine, Taylor Swift and The National’s Matt Berninger recall moments throughout a relationship where effort was not equal from both sides. Like much of The National’s catalog, “coney island” uses melancholy vocals and detailed imagery to evoke strong feelings of loss and nostalgia. Swift sings, “We were like the mall before the internet / It was the one place to be,” recalling the time when the relationship was simpler and more innocent. While Swift asks, “Did I close my fist around something delicate? / Did I shatter you?” Berninger sings, “The question pounds my head / What’s a lifetime of achievement / If I pushed you to the edge?” Throughout the song, Swift describes the issues of her past relationships, many of which ultimately allude to her previous albums. As Swift and Berninger come together to sing, “I’m on a bench in Coney Island / Wondering where did my baby go / The fast times, the bright lights, the merry go / Sorry for not making you my centerfold,” we can feel the pain and longing that comes with a failed relationship, one filled with sweet thrills that turned sour.
Not only are “evermore” and Swift’s previous album “folklore” sonically linked through a folksy, singer-songwriter flair, but there is significant interplay between the thematic focus of the pair. Track ten on both albums are stories of forbidden love and infidelity. “folklore”’s “illicit affairs” and “evermore”’s “ivy” show the tragic beauty and torment of a love affair born out of secrecy. The instrumental on “ivy” is fairly subdued, relying on Swift’s airy vocals that float over the subtle sound and carry “ivy” to its climax at the chorus. Backing vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon punctuate this part of the song as Swift poetically laments, “My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand / Taking mine, but it’s been promised to another.”
“cowboy like me”
Taylor Swift’s career first took a groundbreaking shift from the genre of country to pop when she released “1989.” Yet, with a song like “cowboy like me,” Swift proves that not only does she remember her country roots—she can immerse listeners into her old sound without a second thought (it is also not lost on anyone that we will soon we hearing much more of this sound on the upcoming re-records of her first six albums). Naturally, a song with the word “cowboy” in the title will likely have some undertones of country music, but it is surprising just how much Swift leans back into the sound here. The track’s instrumental is reminiscent of her very first song “Tim McGraw,” and the lyrics depict a relationship between two people who find love in a most unlikely place: their mutual lack of interest in love itself. The voice Swift sings through is aware that they have found a love that is “gonna be one of those things.” Both of the lovers are “bandits” who make their way through life “telling all the rich folks anything they wanna hear,” and despite claiming that both of them crave nothing more than “just a fancy car,” they find themselves entangled in a love affair after their first dance. “Now I’m sitting by the phone, like I’m sitting in an airport bar,” sings Swift, and in an instant, the once-apathetic bandit cares about nothing more than their lover. A dangerous game, for sure.
“long story short”
Swift turns inward on “long story short” to reevaluate past mistakes—or rather, one specific past mistake, which many fans have speculated might be her 2016 relationship with Tom Hiddleston. The personal history of Swift’s transition from Hiddleston to her current longtime boyfriend Joe Alwyn certainly shines through in Swift’s vocal stylings on this track, which begin very darkly but gradually lighten up until we see how much happier Swift is today. Paired with neat synths, muted guitar and an infectiously rhythmic drum kit, “long story short” feels almost like the perfect emotional culmination of the years of trauma Swift neatly packaged into her different musical eras over the years. In just this one song alone, she deftly merges the post-“Reputation” era themes of turning the other cheek (think “I Forgot That You Existed”) with her more bubbly, upbeat love songs (think “Stay, Stay, Stay’) and ties it all together in the indie wrapping paper of her more ambitious “folklore” pieces (think “the last great american dynasty”). “long story short” is uniquely Taylor Swift in all her facets, and it’s already at the top of my Spotify “On Repeat” playlist. Oops.
With “marjorie,” Swift shows us that she may never grow tired of writing piercingly sad songs about her family that make us feel all the things. On “Lover,” she gave us “soon you’ll get better” about her mom’s battle with cancer, and on “folklore,” she wrote from her grandfather’s World War II perspective in “epiphany.” Naturally, this time she turns to her late grandmother Marjorie Finlay, a famous opera singer and one of Swift’s inspirations for making music. The lyric video is full of home videos of Finlay traveling the world with her classic 50s updo and stylish purses, and Swift’s lyrics set to these heartwarming clips discuss the life lessons she learned from her grandmother while expressing the sentiment of Finlay’s presence all around her. Underlying these sections of the song, the subtle incremental additions of new elements to the strings section and drum kit make the first two minutes a crescendo to what is perhaps one of Swift’s best bridges ever. If you’re not already crying, the bridge will get you there. This emotional crescendo continues even after the bridge, as Swift then sings over background vocals remastered from real audio clips of Finlay’s opera performances. We may not know Finlay on the same personal level as Swift, but we all have our ghosts. Through “marjorie,” Swift ensures that we remember them.
The soft percussion and piano accompaniment that begin the penultimate track on “evermore” are a refreshing, new type of beat as the album reaches its close. And yet, as Swift begins her vocals, the lyrics immediately feel personal. In the heart-throbbing manner that Swift has made her signature style, she seems to at last divulge her deepest feelings, admitting in the chorus, “Yes I got your letter / Yes I’m doing better / It cut deep to know ya / Right to the bone.” In an album filled with intricately woven tales of love and loss and secrecy from a host of characters each with complex stories of their own, the narrator of “closure” emerges as Swift herself. Listening to the track, it feels as if Swift has given us a window into her emotions as she at last sets a difficult heartbreak behind her and settles into her own sense of peace.
“evermore” (feat. Bon Iver)
With “folklore,” it was obvious that Swift was streamlining her sound away from pop and more towards gothic melodies. This album affirms that transition, and makes its final, grand assertion with its title track “evermore,” featuring Bon Iver. The pair also worked together in Swift’s last album, specifically in the production of lyrical-masterpiece “exile.” They’re unsurprisingly a perfect match vocally: both specialize in folk-like (pun unintended) melodies and vocal ranges with complex lyrics to boot. In this song, the singers cover sensitive topics like mental health and depression with striking back-and-forth chords. I’m not going to lie, there are times when the vocal overlay between some of Swift and Bon Iver’s verses feel a bit haphazard. That lack of fluidity takes away from the very chill, almost lullaby-esque vibes of “evermore,” but maybe that’s just me getting stressed out by them singing over each other.
Ultimately, if you thought you were impressed by “folklore”’s expansion of Swift’s vocal repertoire, get ready to hear her kick it up about ten notches in “evermore.” It’s everything you could ever want from an indie-folk album and more, continuing Swift’s journey through a relatively uncharted genre space (especially from a country-artist-turned-pop-star). For impactful-but-not-preachy lyrics, impressive featured artists and a setlist ideal for a foggy morning drive, take the plunge and listen to “evermore.”