The best music of Taylor Swift’s career has always burst forth from her need to feel some stability. As she said in the foreword for her latest album, music “has and always will be” the thing she clings to. Gut-wrenching heartbreak brought with it 2012’s RED, unfathomable scandals created 2017’s reputation and the early days of a global pandemic saw the conception of this summer’s folklore. Swift clings to music when she can’t see any other way through. However, a pandemic doesn’t fade in the same way as heartbreak or scandal, so Swift was left with no choice but to keep holding on for dear life. The result is another gorgeous surprise record, evermore – and it may be her finest yet.
While folklore offered a bright atmospheric look at a cast of characters Swift thought up, evermore conjures a colder look at a new crop of fictional personas. With the release of evermore, Swift described the new record as the “winter” to folklore’s “summer” and you can feel that across every minute of the record. Though hardly full of joy and happiness, much of folklore felt airy and clear like a slightly too warm summer’s day. evermore, on the other hand, feels closer, more claustrophobic in its sonic landscape, like the fog has set in and the sun has gone down.
The record is far moodier than its predecessor, which allows Swift to play with a far more vast sonic palette, culminating in some of her most experimental work yet, straying beyond the indie and chamber pop stylings of folklore to reach out to new sounds like chamber-rock and return to old friends like country. Aaron Dessner of The National returns as Swift’s main creative partner for much of the record, and he does just as marvelous a job creating haunting canvases onto which Swift paints her stories.
The record also sees some new faces in Swiftian lore. Long-time friends and first-time collaborators Haim join Swift for a barely-there but effective assist on the utterly brilliant ‘no body, no crime’; a deeply catchy country whodunnit in the vein of The Chick‘s ‘Goodbye Earl’ and Carrie Underwood‘s ‘Before He Cheats’ which is an instant classic in its own right. Prolific producer BJ Burton enters the fold to sprinkle some of his hyperpop magic on the kiss-off ‘closure’ for one of the most interesting tracks in Swift’s discography, clashing scuttering electro-synths against the cold chords of the piano. Elsewhere, Dessner’s The National and folklore-alum Bon Iver offer guest features that both stray a little too close to their guest’s own sounds to fully compete with the brilliance of ‘no body, no crime’.
Swift’s voice is used marvelously on this record. While it has always been more of a vessel for her writing than something truly incredible, her control and vocal choices have far improved from the girl who butchered ‘Rhiannon’ alongside Stevie Nicks all those years ago. On evermore, Swift makes use of her voice more effectively than ever, injecting emotion into every inch of every track. She subtly shows off, dancing between her registers with ease, making some really wonderful touches here and there to flex the tool she has worked so hard to develop over the years: from the quiet self-aware wink that can be heard as she says “I come back stronger than a 90s trend” on lead single ‘willow’ or the ever-so-slight but oh-so-intentional break towards the end of ‘no body, no crime’, Swift’s voice may well still be just a vessel for her words, but what a vessel it has become.
Of course, with any Swift record, the lyricism is undeniable, only bolstered by the creative freedom and intimacy that only a record like evermore can provide. Swift goes wild here, even more so than on folklore, playing with structure and employing words some of us mere mortals can only dream of pronouncing, nevermind using them one of the year’s most mainstream releases. Swift’s already-impressive portfolio of architecture continues with one of her finest bridges to date on the sparse ‘champagne problems’, where she references greek mythology and chevy trucks in the same line: “she would have made such a lovely bride, what a shame she’s fucked in the head”. Swift’s intimate love for detail remains unparalleled, with tracks like ”tis the damn season’ and ‘cowboy like me’ making references to mud on tires and a pair of spurs seem as important as the most intricate metaphors.
evermore makes room for some more pop-leaning offerings as well. Jack Antonoff dips in to offer a hand on ‘gold rush’, a fleeting pop number, while ‘long story short’ is the kind of brilliant pop-punk Swift thought she was crafting on tracks like ‘Paper Rings’.
Despite the close fogginess of evermore‘s production, Swift’s lyrics have never had quite such clarity as they do here, culminating in what may be her best work to date. In fact, it’s not only her lyricism that boasts incomparable clarity but her artistry as a whole. Last year’s Lover was a fine pop record, but in a back catalogue as strong as that of Swift, that’s not a good thing, leaving her at a crossroads. She took the path through the woods, which, thankfully, led her to the brilliance she was always capable of.
Taylor Swift’s evermore is now available everywhere.