Reviews

Taylor Swift Surprised Fans With Second Release of 2020, Evermore

In another surprise drop, Taylor Swift has released the sister album to her critically acclaimed quarantine experiment, Folklore. Her ninth studio album, titled Evermore, serves as a holiday gift to her fans during such a hard year. Evermore is one of the biggest risks Swift has taken in her remarkable career. With a double surprise release like this, it would be so easy for tracks to sound like Folklore rejects and for the theme to become repetitive. As expected from an artist as creative and clever as Swift, this is not the case at all.

In Evermore, Swift experiments sonically, playing with multiple different sounds and genres. There’s no logical explanation for an album to sound so cohesive with the combined sounds of country western influence, PC music production and piano ballads all in one. But, as usual, Swift continues to capture the listener in a way that has become unexplainable and absolutely magical. Carrying on the tradition from Folklore, Swift puts herself in the shoes of the characters she’s created, feeling their deepest emotions and conveying that in her songwriting and vocal execution as if they were her own.

The opening track of Evermore, “Willow,” sets a mythical, adventurous tone for the album. Swift uses creative imagery to invite us into, yet another, world of make-believe and storytelling. “Willow” has so many gorgeous elements working together: beautiful strings, romantic lyricism and an upbeat rhythm. In the “Willow” music video, Swift picks up where she left off in “Cardigan.” Although it’s vastly different from Folklore‘s single, “Cardigan,” they feel complementary of one another. It’s a great introduction to the album, but only a dip in the waters of what’s to come.

“Champagne problems” is a jarring transition from such a lively, welcoming opening track. For more seasoned Swift fans, the first few piano notes will instantly trigger memories of the closing track of Reputation, “New Year’s Day.” The song is sonically simple, with a piano melody the whole way through to highlight the lyricism. Swift tells the story of rejecting a proposal, focusing on the guilt of breaking someone’s heart and problems that may seem small in the grand scheme of things, but matter deeply to the people involved. In possibly her best bridge to date, Swift sings gut-wrenching lyrics with a personal type of pain portrayed through her vocals.

In “Gold Rush,” Swift uses her magic to paint the ugly emotion of jealousy in a dazzling, ethereal light. Before its release, long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff compared this track to Folklore‘s “August,” which makes complete sense upon listening. Both songs are about competing for someone’s affection and feeling like it could all slip away at any moment. “Gold Rush” is one of Taylor’s most dynamic tracks, switching back and forth from enchanting strings to a traditional pop beat throughout the song’s entirety.

When fans initially saw the tracklist, “‘Tis the Damn Deason” song was an immediate question mark. Is Swift putting a Christmas song on the record? Well, the answer is yes but also no. “’Tis the Damn Season” follows the narrative of someone returning to their hometown and considering reigniting an old flame. In one of the catchiest choruses on Evermore, Swift sings, “I’m staying at my parent’s house // And the road not taken looks real good now,” referring to a feeling anyone who has left their hometown can relate to, questioning if she made the right decision about leaving home. In a mere three minutes and 49 seconds, Swift tells a heartbreaking, yet comforting love story of nostalgia and regret.

If you’re not a super-fan (or Swiftie, if you will) of Swift’s, you might not be aware of the track No. 5 trend. What started out as an accident in her earlier albums, has turned into tradition: putting the most heartbreaking song on the album in the track No. 5 spot. Now that Taylor is doing it on purpose, the songs only get more and more agonizing. It all comes to a head in Evermore’s track No. 5, “Tolerate It.” With even more minimal piano production than “Champagne Problems,” this track demands your attention to its poignant description of feeling unwanted. In another heartbreaking bridge, Taylor sings about finally breaking free from a toxic relationship with visceral lyrics like, “Gain the weight of you, then lose it // Believe me, I could do it.” Although there are some empowering lyrics, the song ends by referring back to the first lyrics, implying that this character did not muster up the courage to leave such an unhealthy situation of feeling undervalued and unloved.

In another jarring tone switch, Swift throws her hat into the ring of female country songs about murdering cheating men, joining iconic tracks like “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks and “Two Black Cadillacs” by Carrie Underwood. Although Swift welcomes the Haim sisters, who are some of her closest friends, onto the track, they’re more like background singers than an actual feature. “No Body, No Crime” fully commits to the stereotypes of this niche country sub-genre in the best way. With unapologetic southern twang and a traditional country music storytelling structure, this track tells the story of ride or die (literally) friendship. It’s like watching an episode of Dateline combined with Gone Girl in the best way.

In Swift’s sarcastic nature, “Happiness” is another tragic track about the end of a relationship. Although there’s the hope of happiness at the core of this one, it’s no easier to listen to than the other breakup songs on Evermore. Swift leaves grudges at the door in this track as she grapples with simultaneously appreciating the joy a relationship brought her, while also acknowledging that she will feel that way again in the future. The production is again minimal, but there’s a gorgeous organ synth throughout, which complements the bittersweet lyrical content. During the chorus, piano and strings come in to heighten the emotions. Swift uses a rhetorical device that can be found throughout Evermore, changing the pronouns used throughout the song to show different perspectives. In the first verse, she sings, “I haven’t met the new me yet,” which eventually turns into, “You haven’t met the new me yet,” in later verses. This shows her growth throughout the experience of grappling with heartbreak.

Swift continues the story of “‘Tis the Damn Season” by revealing the opposite perspective on “Dorothea.” The character of Dorothea is someone who moved to Los Angeles to chase fame, leaving her high school flame behind. We learn as Swift sings that this old flame doesn’t hold a grudge and will always be there for her if she decides to come back. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once, a dichotomy that Swift has certainly mastered. Sonically, “Dorothea” is reminiscent of a Lumineers song, with a lively piano and guitar combination. (They even tweeted Swift saying they’d be down to collaborate — fingers crossed for TS10!)

In this collaboration with The National’s frontman, Matt Berninger, Swift has her most indie moment yet. “Coney Island” is a track of full self-reflection, analyzing how Taylor (or a character — it’s not quite clear) acted in her past relationships and apologizing to past lovers. Even though she directly offers an apology multiple times throughout this song, it doesn’t feel like she’s saying it to the people she hurt. Instead, as the song describes, she’s sitting in isolation apologizing to the void. Although Matt’s voice comes in abruptly, their vocals work well together. It’s definitely a combination of both of their writing, sounds and signature styles. There’s tons of beautiful, innate, vintage imagery in the lyrics like, “’Cause we were like the mall before the internet // It was the one place to be // The mischief, the gift-wrapped suburban dreams // Sorry for not winning you an arcade ring.”

If we were going to assign sister songs from Folklore to these tracks, “Ivy” would easily be paired with “Illicit Affairs.” The main difference between the two tracks is the attitude the character has towards their own infidelity. In “Illicit Affairs,” the narrator knows they’re in the wrong while in “Ivy” the situation feels valid because of the arranged nature of the marriage. This is the most lavish, descriptive track on Evermore, with details of opal eyes, houses of stone and clover blooms. The chorus is also one of the most infectious on the album. Trust me, with one listen you will have “Oh, goddamn // My pain fits in the palm of your freezing hand,” stuck in your head for days.

Although Taylor nods to her country music days earlier in the album, this track is a different country feel. “Cowboy Like Me” calls back to traditional, country-western sounds, with a hypnotizing, retro electric guitar and a story of traveling bandits that fall in love. Swift paints such a distinct visual in this track, describing every detail — no matter how small. She’s joined by Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons for the backing vocals, which subconsciously aids the duet nature of the story. These two characters are both hustlers, never to be tied down — at least until they meet one another. Taylor’s clever songwriting skills shine in this track, with genius lyrics like, “And the skeletons in both our closets / Plotted hard to fuck this up” and “Forever is the sweetest con.”

After such strenuous, emotionally taxing tracks back to back, Swift gives us all a breather in this super fun track. Sonically, it sounds like a combination of all her past sounds, such as “The Story of Us” on Speak Now and “Holy Ground” on Red. Although she’s experimenting throughout Evermore, this track grounds listeners and reminds them of the classic Taylor Swift we all know and love. It’s a breath of fresh air full of mantras and hope. In the last verse, the track slows down while Taylor offers some valuable advice to her past self singing, “Past me, I wanna tell you not to get lost in these petty things // Your nemeses will defeat themselves // Before you get the chance to swing.” If only she could go back and tell that to herself in 2016, but “Long Story Short” makes it clear that in order to find happiness, sometimes you have to go through bad times.

After such a positive break from the heaviness of Evermore, Taylor knocks us back down in the best way with “Marjorie.” This song is about Swift’s grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, who passed away in 2003. Swift sings about how she feels her grandmother’s presence in everything she does today, which anyone who has lost a loved one can relate to. Marjorie was an opera singer and Taylor even uses a snippet of her vocals towards the end of the track, which, once you notice it, is sure to break your heart in two. Although “Marjorie” didn’t live to see Swift become a global superstar, the connection they share through music provides her with comfort. Sonically, the track is gorgeous and haunting, with a touching bridge as per Swift’s signature style. For the lyric video, Taylor used old photos and home videos of Marjorie as a tribute. Here’s your warning before watching: grab some tissues.

In a surprising choice, Taylor collaborated with producer B.J. Burton, of Charli XCX fame, on “Closure.” The introduction is harsh compared to the rest of Evermore, which is of course, purposeful. It also sounds like a big machine breaking down (we invite you to make your own conclusions based on that observation.) “Closure” is about not needing an apology from someone to move on from the pain they caused you. The way this track is written and sung is almost like spoken word poetry. The flow is confusing in the best way, leaving you wondering what comes next. “Closure” is the most empowering and self-aware song on Evermore, with one of Taylor’s quirkiest lyrics to date: “I’m fine with my spite, and my tears, and my beers and my candles.”

Compared to Folklore, this album has a more definite end because of its title track. “Evermore,” the closing song, starts with a haunting piano melody accompanied by the sound of birds chirping in the background. It feels like a reflection of not only the previous tracks on this album, but also Folklore, her tumultuous life in the spotlife over the past decade or so and quarantine as a whole. As Swift and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon sing back and forth, they create a chaotic synergy that complements the storyline of “Evermore” perfectly. The track slows back down again and closes out as a piano ballad. The three choruses of “evermore” each start with the same line, but detail different perspectives. In the first two, Swift sings about feeling like the pain will last forever. In the last chorus, and the ending of the song, Taylor switches her attitude as she sings, “I had a feeling so peculiar // This pain wouldn’t be for, evermore.” Ending this album, and such a career-defining creative experience for Swift, by leaving all cards on the table feels complete.

It’s crazy to say that Swift has outdone herself once again — and in the span of only a few months! Time and time again, Swift has shown that she is the songwriter and storyteller of our generation. After such a vigorous career with set 2-year album cycles and reinvention with every era, Folklore and Evermore‘s creation and rollout have been a drastic change for Taylor. It’s been amazing to witness the range of her creativity when she has full control, no expectations, and so much time on her hands. We may never get albums like Folklore and Evermore again, but this new creative process has opened so many avenues for Taylor that we can’t wait to see what comes next.

Featured Image: Republic Records