This Review Is Very Late
For everything 2020 has come to represent, this year's music has been perhaps the one shining light of positivity to emerge. From Caribou to Charli XCX, from Fiona Apple to Lianne La Havas, big names have repeatedly stepped up to the plate to bat away the all-encompassing malaise of widespread disease and climate catastrophe - and it's really great to be able to say that Taylor Swift's latest album folklore is another of 2020's successes.
Following on from the bloated Lover and (the quite awful) Reputation, this latest album is near enough as dramatic a re-imagining of Swift's songwriting style as her shift from 'next-door country singer/songwriter' to 'pop music behemoth' in the early 2010s. folklore resets this artist back in time - in one sense - as she strips back her style to the charming authenticity that made her success in the first place. But, paradoxically, this isn't a return to the youthful naivety and innocence of 'You Belong With Me' or 'Love Story' - it's a collection of Swift's most mature songwriting to date.
Embracing piano instrumentals and cottagecore aesthetics, 'the 1' does a lot of the heavy lifting in re-establishing Swift as a quietly introspective singer (where I feel she has always been at her most interesting). Letting the track breathe on the pause following
"I thought I saw you at the bus stop
I didn't though"
really stuck out to me as a little rhythmic hook that I'm not sure I'd ever heard before from Ms. Swift. The song bridges the gap that might've proved jarring between Swift-past and Swift-present, before 'cardigan' fades in.
I shouldn't go on much further without addressing an elephant in the room. 'cardigan' sounds a lot like Lana Del Rey. Now, do I have a problem with that? Not really, no. The wistful melancholia of Norman Fucking Rockwell! proved to be our second favourite album of 2019 and so hearing shades of NFR! permeating through the melodies and lyricism of folklore is hardly something I'm going to complain about, but does folklore do anything better than NFR! did? Maybe not.
Del Rey-ness flickers in through 'my tears richochet', 'seven' and 'mad woman' with moments of vocal delivery sounding so close to Del Rey's signature style that I had to check to see if she had made an appearance. This is definitely an album at least 'inspired' by the sounds of NFR! but never exceeding the craft or emotional resonance that Del Rey's masterwork achieved.
Yet there are a multitude of styles explored on folklore, with Swift certainly not restricted from finding inspiration from Lana Del Rey and her alone. Taylor and Bon Iver combine on 'exile', on a collaboration so on-brand that it's honestly astonishing that the two have never worked together before. It's a shame that I find the song pretty dull - but people seem to be enjoying it overwhelmingly, so perhaps I'm missing something. To me, it's just fine.
I like 'august'. I like 'this is me trying', but I love 'invisible string'. Admittedly there are not many songs on folklore that I feel are totally unmissable, but something keeps bringing me back to the album's eleventh song. It might be the intricate guitar/banjo lines in the mix slipping in and out from processed beats and a warmly comfortable chorus, or it might be the vocal riff that closes out at [1:54] - either way, it's great.
As far as the last few tracks are concerned, folklore loses me. None of the songs are bad - all sticking faithfully to the trends that work well on the album, but in truth I don't really find that much to really enjoy after some of the LPs better moments. Many of the songs blur together, not helped by the length of the record passing an hour before even considering bonus track 'the lakes' making an appearance on the album's 'deluxe version.'
Still, in many ways this album does the impossible. It returns Taylor Swift to a state of honest songwriting and emotional accessibility. For an artist that had progressed to a level of incalculable super stardom, this album is soft, open and rewarding. folklore isn't the best album of the year, but it might be one of the year's most impressive achievements. Restoring Taylor Swift into a figure that makes music for herself, rather than in the service of an image increasingly built by a narrative that surrounded her without her consent, folklore abandons performativity for sincerity, and does it very well.
- 7.1 -
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
This article was edited by Guille Fernandez, a music lover who studied the cello for almost 10 years before moving to the UK to study English literature at King's College, London.
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