REVIEW: Taylor Swift takes us deeper into the forest in ‘evermore’
Only five months ago, Taylor Swift surprised the world with her eighth studio album, folklore, and took us on a journey of hope and longing, loss and despair, reminiscence and romanticisation. That ornate storytelling has barely finished marinating and, already, she’s back to break hearts and put them back together again in sixty minutes.
From the first acoustic note of opening track ‘willow’, we’re transported back to those familiar acres of forests and lakes. Where the sun was once felt blazing on our skin in folklore, the leaves have now fallen from the trees and the frost is glistening on the grass. Those mellifluous summer stories in the rear-view mirror, evermore feels like a sombre moment of reflection spent sitting in front of the fire as the winter gets colder.
Swift’s newfound maturity shines brighter than it ever has before. Lulling piano chords ring through tracks such as ‘happiness’ and ‘marjorie’, giving an airy silence to really luxuriate her heart-wrenching ability to simplify every feeling you could possibly imagine. Her storytelling has always been what sets her apart from anyone else, and I’m so thrilled to hear Taylor continuing those mellow moments of honesty.
For an album put together in mere months, it’s obvious Swift has put a lot of thought into every nook and hideout den in evermore, and her collaborations are a perfect measure of this. The National’s feature on ‘coney island’ could undoubtedly be a part of the band’s 2019 release ‘I Am Easy to Find’ with imagery and self-condemnation in lines like “who coaxed you into paradise and left you there? / will you forgive my soul / when you’re too wise to trust me and too old to care?”. It’s clear she is influenced by Matt Berninger’s lyricism in the way she encapsulated his style so uniquely. Even in ‘‘tis the damn season’, I almost expected to hear Berninger’s voice against Aaron Dessner’s trademark electric guitar. It’s an unexpected comparison, but Taylor Swift has proven time and time again that she’s capable of an endless horizon of genres. I certainly wouldn’t complain if her future albums echoed similar influences to The National.
Darkness doesn’t last all winter, though; Swift’s country roots are back with a vengeance in HAIM collaboration ‘no body, no crime’, and a subtle harmonica returns in my personal album highlight, the fairytale-esque ‘ivy’. Those blinding December sunsets in the late afternoon flourish in ‘gold rush’ as dreamy vocals wonder aloud “what must it be like to grow up that beautiful?”. It’s a track that displays such growth from songs in her earlier career like ‘Enchanted’ where she narrates enjoying the exact feeling ‘gold rush’ claims to dislike. Here, she’s older and wiser and will be calling anyone out on their “contrarian shit”.
In an hour-long album, it’s inevitable for some tracks to feel less impactful than their surrounding songs. The laidback ‘cowboy like me’ tiptoed on the line of being the shimmering, slow-dance song that ‘mirrorball’ was for folklore, but unfortunately the narrative loses its way in the towering trees.
It doesn’t take long for Swift to find her bearings again, giving a delightful shrug of the shoulder to her hardships in ‘long story short’. This isn’t new ground to Taylor, having written the haunting “all of my enemies started out friends” about her career in ‘The Archer’, but she manages to portray old feelings like a breath of fresh air. She reflects further on these struggles now, writing a letter to her past self to say “your nemeses will defeat themselves before you get the chance to swing” and wrapping it up in a ribbon with “long story short, I survived / now I’m all about you”.
Even in the disorientated moments of evermore, there are sprinklings of glitter across every song if the light catches them right. The final and title track certainly sparkles all over; it’s a perfect finishing touch to the adventure that Taylor has taken us on. Gentle violins creep through the beginning like footprints in the snow, soon building up to a flurry of Bon Iver’s classic vocoder. ‘evermore’ is Bon Iver (aka Justin Vernon’s) second feature in Taylor Swift’s discography, the first one appearing in ‘exile’ on folklore where we hear Vernon’s vocals deep and gravelly. I just adore how contrastingly she utilised this collaboration, proving her versatility but also Bon Iver’s. Though, my favourite thing about this song is the story it tells; Swift begins by sighing “I had a feeling so peculiar / that this pain would be forevermore”. It’s gut-wrenchingly sad. As the spacious piano settles back in from Vernon and Swift’s climactic harmonies, the line changes to “I had a feeling so peculiar / this pain wouldn’t be forevermore”. Taylor sees out ‘evermore’ in the setting of a cosy cabin in the woods, patching up the impact of every painful word sung.
Having listened to pretty much nothing else since its release, I’m already on the cusp of awarding evermore the title of my favourite Taylor Swift album. More mature and intelligent than ever, I can’t even begin to predict what her tenth release could bring. Either way, she’s made it that bit trickier to choose an album of the year, that’s for sure.