Published Dec 14, 2020Just five months after Taylor Swift surprised the world with the sudden release of her eighth studio album, folklore, she decided to celebrate her 31st birthday by releasing folklore's self-proclaimed "sister" album, evermore. As she noted on Instagram, 31 is a mirror image of her lucky number 13, neatly underscoring the way the two records intertwine, converge and subtly diverge in their themes, textures and subject matter.
In our folklore review, we said that the album "feels like the culmination of a decade's worth of public growth and artistic fine-tuning" — this rings true for evermore as well, with songs like "happiness" and "ivy" demonstrating some of Swift's most mature songwriting to date. From the starry-eyed country-pop of earlier releases and the sparkling, polished synth-pop of recent work to folklore's minimalistic piano- and guitar-driven folk sound, what has remained constant throughout all of these different eras is her perfectly calibrated lyrical romanticism, on full display across evermore's tracks.
Sonically, evermore is largely a continuation of the soft, hushed folk-pop of folklore, a result of Swift's ongoing collaborations with producers such as the National's Aaron Dessner and pop mastermind Jack Antonoff. Where folklore is more solemn, evoking rain-chilled late-summertime sadness, evermore makes more room for warmth and playfulness, particularly on tracks such as the HAIM-assisted, "Before He Cheats"-style murder mystery "no body, no crime" and the gently country-tinged tale of swindlers in love, "cowboy like me."
If Swift is lost in the woods throughout folklore, evermore finds a little bit of sunlight streaming through the trees (evoking her words of wisdom from 2014's "Out of the Woods": "The monsters turned out to be just trees"). Even on "marjorie," a wistful ode to her late grandmother, Swift paints a bittersweet portrait of tender memories: "The autumn chill that wakes me up / You loved the amber skies so much / Long limbs and frozen swims / You'd always go past where our feet could touch." In a typical Swiftian flourish, "marjorie" sits at track 13, creating a mirror image to folklore's "epiphany," dedicated to her grandfather's experience in the military and the long-lasting effects of PTSD.
Much like folklore's narratives, including an ill-fated teenage love triangle and the gossipy, seaside story of real-life composer Rebekah Harkness in "the last great american dynasty," Swift finds a delicate balance between fanciful escapism and self-mythologizing on evermore in tracks such as "champagne problems," "'tis the damn season," and "dorothea." These musical short stories are mostly delightful, but the magic of Swift's songwriting lies in her ability to sketch beautiful, emotionally-charged lines that cut through what might be considered disingenuous or manipulative posturing. When she lets go and turns toward messier, irresolvable situations, some of her best writing emerges, as in the chorus of "ivy" when she sings, "My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand," or on the devastating "tolerate it": "Lay the table with the fancy shit / And watch you tolerate it."
While retreading folklore's ground, evermore deepens and enriches its older sister's world. Each of Swift's albums provides an embarrassment of riches for fans to parse through — at least until her next release, which will more than likely arrive sooner than anyone thinks. (Republic)