Wednesday, August 19, 2020

folklore (2020) offers an enchanting escape from the dumpster fire that is 2020

folklore album review
When it comes to Taylor Swift, her most devoted Swifties always expect something to pop up around the corner. Known as the queen of meticulously dropping hints of what’s to come, she always manages to keep fans on the edge of their seat. With her seventh album Lover dropping less than a year ago, and a massive pandemic sweeping the world, very few could’ve expected to hear new music after a cancelled summer tour. The next era of her music felt like an eternity away, but only Swift could drop her eighth studio record out of nowhere and blast more of our expectations out of the water. 

Throughout Taylor's evolution of genres and life experiences, it's safe to say that every era – excluding her first three – is entirely different. Red mixes country and pop; 1989 is sonically cohesive 1980s pop; Reputation mixes blockbuster-sized rants with quiet reflective melodies; Lover returns to summery pop, jazzy pop, and everything in-between. Her latest record shares similarities with her past but also points to future. In a weird twist of fate, folklore acts as a mirror to the rest of Taylor’s work, yet also stands on its own. Similar to Lover, it was produced in record time – in under four months instead of six, and dropped almost immediately after the end of a previous era. Yet unlike Lover, the production of folklore isn't rushed - everything has its place from the use of instruments to her very specific choice of phrases and wordplay.

With every album release there is, of course, the routine of deciphering every song and detail; or at least, reading along with everyone’s theories and applying clown make-up to what turns out to be fact or fiction. Folklore upholds the tradition with lingering questions such as who is William Bowery, a mysterious co-songwriter nobody has ever heard of before; the love triangle approach Swift took with three of the songs cardigan, august, and betty; and a guessing game of which of the tunes are based on her own life or someone else’s /if they’re about fame, love, relationships, etc. These elements are truly conversation pieces for those who are interested in the stories behind Taylor's storytelling, but they also offer an opportunity to listen to the album and digest it track-by-track.

Inspired to weave stories of her own life and imaginary characters into an album, every song could earn the Track 5 Award- the song that's regarded as the most emotional entry on album. This isn’t just because most of folklore sound ethereal, like they were captured in the middle of the woods or an abandoned cathedral. But because her storytelling is slicker than ever before, drawing up new images and ideas that she hasn’t done before. And yet, many tracks also return to her older work; the 1 could’ve been on the Lover album instead of I Forgot That You Existed or It’s Nice To Have A Friend; mad woman makes a good case against Reputation’s I Did Something Bad; and so on. Her voice is incredibly expressive throughout, often evoking a hopeful lamenting – that possibly describes the focal point throughout her career. And, her verses and melodies are rarely overpowering or under-used. She cuts deep with her lyrics, touching on everything from the betrayal she felt being pushed out of Big Machine Records, the growing pains of growing up, and wondering what her life could’ve been if she had changed something small in her past. .

With a total of seventeen tracks – almost the size of a deluxe album for most artists – folklore does again emulate a little bit of Lover, in that it's a little long to enjoy in one sitting. There aren't songs I'd necessary cut from the former, but Lover contains more continuous up-tempo numbers that prevent it from dragging. Folklore, on the other hand, can feel repetitive in the middle with a few tracks that sound too similar. A different arrangement could’ve made it more – for a lack of a better word – swift and half of its size. 

Ultimately, Swift seems to have dodged her critics again who felt she's limited herself since Reputation and has become another better version of herself. In the middle of an era where artists are being pushed to come out of their shell within lockdown and without the direct connection with their fans, Swift’s eighth era is a story that Swifties will pass down and carry on with them from the pandemic and beyond.

Have you listened to folklore? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! 

Here are my thoughts on the individual songs, or you could skip below to my ranking of faves to least faves.

the 1 – Is it wrong for me to admit this was the first song I cried after watching the cardigan music video? 16 hours of waiting for a new album is too much to ask out of a Swiftie. Overall, I felt like this easily could’ve been on Lover, but it pairs nicely with other songs on folklore like invisible string and peace.

cardigan – The music video was such an enchanting way to kick off the album release. Without the love triangle approach though, I’m not sure the lyrics flow as well between the refrain to the first two choruses. The third chorus is amazing. But I still enjoy it. 

the last great american dynasty – Give this story to Wes Anderson. I can easily see him turning this into a dapper film set in the 1950s. As much as Taylor doesn’t write about love all the time, it was refreshing to hear a song not related to relationships specifically. It’s a very mischievous song that keeps growing on me.

exile ft bon iver – I can’t listen to this without Ajayll’s reaction to Justin’s voice. If you haven’t checked out her whole channel, go there straight away. She's one of the best YouTubers ever. The song's message reminds me a lot of Someone That I Used To Know by Gotye mixed in with the piano melody of Hurt by Johnny Cash. It’s one of my ‘middle of the pack’ songs.

my tears ricochet – Similar to a lot of songs, this is close to being analyzed by fans about her career/fame/Big Machine Records, which breaks my heart how close she must have been to Scott Borchetta. Taylor set out to write a song about a toxic lover who can’t let go of his obsession, and it fits too. She's known for going to Bridge City, but I think she took us to Bridge Utopia here, with a song that builds from beginning to end and features some of my favorite lyrics of the whole album.

mirrorball – This is one of my top five with its true influences of nostalgia 70s music, but I’m still trying to figure this song out – the contrast of Taylor or the perspective she’s using from being a mirrorball / disco ball to being the star on a trapeze. Either way, the way she sings the chorus is so charming.

seven – Seven isn’t in my top five, but I adore imagery. A part of me thinks this is Taylor comforting her inner child as well as a friend from her past. Whether it's childlike innocence, or a hidden affair, or crushing self-doubts, Taylor manages to pick the best analogies and descriptions. Its final chorus and verse are some of my favorites.

august – Not my favorite song, if I’m being honest. It’s down there with the next two tracks. I just have a hard time connecting with the story, even as a part of the love triangle. Some of the lyrics in this and illicit affairs are some of her most mature songs yet though.

this is me trying – I love the lyrics and the metaphors she paints of her career, the effects of speaking out, and her enormous skyrocket to fame…but good lord, the song is just so slow. It doesn’t quite build up to the bridge and feels like half of a song instead of a full one.

illicit affairs – I can’t connect with this one – neither the lyrics, or melody, or tone. I have to listen to it, to remember which track it is. It’s just my least favorite one, and I don’t see myself warming up to it. It's my only skip except for the last track. 

invisible string – Everything about this song - being tied to someone before you know them, the plucky guitar and harps, her chippy yet neutral voice - is just *chef’s kiss.*

mad woman – Is there any woman who doesn’t relate to this song? Taylor Swift said ‘you think I can let go of what you did to me? I’m angry and you’re going to know about it.’ And I’m here for it.

epiphany – Perhaps more than any song on folklore, this one is the most ethereal. Despite the song being nearly five minutes long, her storytelling comes through so vividly with the shortest amount of words and verses. It’s not one of my favorites, but the entire production is so gorgeous, it's grown on me.

betty – Maybe it’s because I am queer, but I honestly heard betty as a queer song before the fervor of the love triangle and character's genders took off.  I disappointed that she was prompted to confirm this story was heterosexual, especially when she’s been quiet about most of the songs. I think she did it so people wouldn’t accuse her of queer baiting, which is understandable, but…I just wish the origins were kept in the dark. Otherwise, I love the Bob Dylan influences and the song as a whole. I ordered this album cover from her store before I heard the song and glad that I didn’t end up hating it.

peace – I’m not quite sure what draws me so strongly to this song versus all the others. When I first heard it on the album, my heart just went ‘yes.’ Similar to Soon You’ll Get Better as my favorite from Lover, I just love the simplicity of peace…which is ironic, given how acoustic this album is. Taylor always draws on her own insecurities as a partner in a relationship, and I just truly relate to those fears and self-doubts.

hoax – There are a lot of interpretations of this song – that Joe/Taylor broke up, that this is about fame or BMR, and all of those are valid. But her voice arguably is as heartbroken here as it is in Soon You’ll Get Better. Once she mentioned 'don't want no other shade of blue but you' I broke down - given that she uses blue to connect to Joe. This is the other song on the album that I cried when folklore was initially released. It was a fitting bookend of feeling all the feels. But, the tone is quite brutal to have been the closing track for a few weeks.

the lakes - As the bonus track released after the album there was a lot of hype to this, but I'm just not crazy about it. Her voice is dynamite, and the lyrics are beautiful. But the verse and chorus are two different songs. Her choice of words like 'the hunters with cellphones' and 'no one to tweet about it' jars  me out of the escapism. And "I've come too far to watch some namedropping sleaze / Tell me what are my words worth" should be in mad woman. I hate to end the post on this not, but I don't find this as strong in its story or melody as the rest of the album. And it's kind of disappointing this is the 'real' closing track.

Ranking the songs on folklore:
Top five: peace, my tears ricochet, invisible string, the 1, and mirrorball
Not top faves but I definitely don’t hate them – betty, the last american dynasty, mad woman, cardigan, exile, hoax, seven, this is me trying, epiphany
Least favorite: august, illicit affairs, the lakes

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