By Josh Ong
Time passes weirdly nowadays. It’s a bit odd to think that just five months ago, Swift took the world by storm by dropping a surprise album on an unsuspecting audience. She’s pulled the same card again, with just 24 hours noticed ahead of today’s new album, evermore. Today’s release felt very much the same as folklore’s, except we at least had a rough inkling as to where this one was going.
Prior to the release of folklore, I had no idea about the grandeur world of cottagecore and its associated artists. Truth be told, I still haven’t really retired folklore out of the daily listening rotation.Where I spoke about it within my last review of her work, I noted the introspective lyricism and general aura that the album emanated; months down the line, they haven’t lost their magic. I am still energised by august and beaten down by the bridge of illicit affairs on a daily basis. Perhaps even more successfully is that folklore, alongside external events in life, effectively acted as a successful introduction to the rest of the genre. A large portion of my daily listening now consists of the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, The Japanese House, and others, for better or worse.
Thus, we arrive at today’s release, officially dubbed the sister record of folklore. It’s clear that these two albums share the same core DNA. Stylistically, they are cut from the same cloth, whilst deviating enough from each other to differentiate themselves without losing the sound that fans have already become accustomed to. Unfortunately, for evermore, that sound hasn’t quite resonated in the same way as its predecessor’s did.
When reviewing albums like this, it’s quite easy for things to start blending together. I had no plans of waking up before 9am prior to this album announcement yesterday. Similarly, to get these articles out on time, I’ve often woken up at the crack of dawn, powered only by caffeine and dreams, to listen through and start dissecting her work. This, in reality, is both a curse and a blessing. Whilst my still half-asleep brain often starts to meld filler tracks into one monotonous slurry, it also highlights any standout tracks to a far higher degree. This certainly applies here, and there’s definitely a far more discernible relationship between evermore’s best tracks and its less imaginative ones.
Swift’s writing has always stood at the core of her music, and is undoubtedly the reason that she stands where she is today. It’s been consistently exceptional across all of her discography, including evermore. In return, these haunting ballads and scathing lyricism have always been upheld by the work of producers on her albums. Sadly for evermore, it certainly feels as though this was the weakest part of the package. It’s a little hard to describe at times, but many of its tracks seem to lack that same soul as its older sister.
Aaron Dressner was a pivotal to folklore. His ability to craft distressing and forlorn instrumentation to match Swift’s departure into the world of part-fantasy-part-fiction storytelling stood at the very foundation of the album. However, these were matched almost entirely by the spirit and gusto of the work of Jack Antonoff, someone who Swift cited as being almost like musical family at this point. Antonoff’s tracks almost always stand out as fan favourites, packing heaps of energy and infectious melodies, often without the hallmark signs of a charting pop song. And, when comparing the workload shared between Dressner and Antonoff on folklore and evermore respectively, the explanation as to why I don’t feel the same way towards the latter starts to reveal itself. Where Antonoff produced seven of folklore’s tracks, his work is found on only two of evermore.
However, when the album finds its feet, it does so with flying colours. Antonoff’s first track of the album, gold rush, is a celebration of fantastic production matched in part by Swift’s eager and everlasting desire to pursue creativity. The track almost feels like Swift’s answer to Lorde’s Green Light; emotive introductions flipped on their head into thumping house-style bass and irresistible choruses. Unsurprisingly, they both share Antonoff as their producer. This is, unequivocally, the standout track of the album, it’s just a shame there’s not more like it.
This album, too, is the story of duets; some good, some dubious. The announcement yesterday noted the return of Bon Iver, as well as HAIM, the trio being long term friends of Swift. The titular track and duet with Bon Iver was one that perfectly matched that of their previous collaboration, exile. The song is a simple one, with the relationship and interplay between Swift’s intricate riffs with Justin Vernon’s powerful bellow standing as the centrepoint. It plays into their known strengths, and works exceptionally well. Swift’s ‘duet’ with HAIM on no body, no crime, however, is a tad more questionable. The song itself is thoroughly enjoyable. It utilises Swift’s country past to illustrate a micro-narrative squeezed into an under-four-minute number, through clever and grounded lyricism. But it’s no more a duet than Ant & Seb were a duet on their infamous X-Factor audition. Their contribution of an occasional backup vocal or repeated word sung by Swift is almost comical, to be quite frank. It’s a good track, I’m just wondering why, or how, HAIM were involved in it at all.
Similarly, on a writing front, we witnessed the return of GRAMMY-nominated William Bowery, who has since been confirmed as an alias for Swift’s long term partner and actor, Joe Alwyn. Given the revelations that he wrote the entirety of betty’s chorus, as well as the piano melody to exile, it’ll be interesting to know the breath of his contributions to these tracks.
I realise now this article has read quite negatively. I enjoyed this album; it’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, I don’t feel the same allure or sense of magic towards it that I did to folklore. Calling it folklore’s sister record is its most apt description; it’s obviously from the same family as its predecessor, but lacks the maturity, refinement and conviction that an older sibling possesses. On the tracks where it taps into that unique DNA that runs at the heart of her music, this album soars. Unfortunately, I don’t feel the majority of tracks carry this weight.
It’s a little hard to say that I’m disappointed in this album, I’m not at all. After all, it’s impossible to be disappointed by something you didn’t know you were getting. And, given folklore’s relative recency, it’s not like we’re being starved of quality by Swift. To me evermore stands as the musical equivalent of video game DLC – it’s a nice addition to a pre-existing masterpiece, but you’ll always return to the main game in the end.