Taking a look at Taylor Swifts second record of 2020 ‘evermore’
2020 was the year of cabin fever and distance. It seems apt, then, that we saw the release of not one, but two albums rooted in the folk genre by country-singer-turned-global-sensation Taylor Swift to keep us warm. First surprising the world with folklore in July, Swift released its ‘sister record’ evermore in December – barely five months later. It features guest appearances from Haim, The National, and Bon Iver; Justin Vernon having already provided vocals for the moody piano ballad ‘Exile,’ and Aaron Dessner writing with Swift on folklore. The album is a wonderful addition to the prolific singer’s discography, showcasing rich storytelling that is a staple of her work.
In terms of genre, Swift does take some liberties. Fans of folk should not fear, however, as there are plenty of songs on the album that are wonderfully woodsy and atmospheric, like opening track ‘Willow,’ and even more so, the tale of secret love, ‘Ivy.’ Swift has never been shy to dip into different genres. The album’s third track, ‘Gold Rush,’ is a whimsical pop-inspired song with a consistent beat that drives home witty phrases: ‘I don’t like slow motion, double vision in rose blush…’ Later, we hear ‘Long Story Short,’ which wouldn’t sound out of place on Swift’s 2014 pop album 1989, with its upbeat synth and fast-paced snare beats.
On other tracks, Swift goes back to her country roots as heard in ‘No Body, No Crime’ (ft. Haim), where a cheating husband meets his match at the hands of ‘Este’s’ vengeful friend. After all, what genre produces a damning, powerful anthem better than country? And on slow bluesy track ‘Cowboy Like Me,’ Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons provides backing alongside Swift’s vocals. Some take an experimental turn, like ‘Closure,’ which opens on discordant notes that some may find jarring. But similarly, metallic-sounding notes are present on gentle, retrospective ‘Marjorie,’ a song dedicated to Swift’s late grandmother ‘who still visits me sometimes… if only in my dreams,’ that voices the longing to have made the most of her company: ‘I should’ve asked you questions / I should’ve asked you how to be.’
And of course, there’s no shortage of heart-wrenching tales of love. On ‘Champagne Problems,’ stripped-back piano allows the story of a turned-down proposal to be centre stage. Pleading piano ballad ‘Tolerate It’ (said to have been inspired by Daphne Du Maurier’s novel Rebecca) details another difficult relationship (‘I know my love should be celebrated, but you tolerate it’), whilst the orchestral ‘Happiness’ references The Great Gatsby with direct quotations: ‘I hope she’ll be a beautiful fool.’
Swift’s tendency to use small details to create a larger picture is seen on track 4: ‘Tis the Damn Season.’ Opening with finger-picked guitar-heavy with reverb, its nostalgic feeling is offset by distant drum-beats in the background. Swift hones in on the intimacy of her hometown, describing how ‘I parked my car right between the Methodist and the school that used to be ours.’ This song, in particular, feels conversational as she addresses someone close to her; ‘we can call it even, you can call me ‘babe’ for the weekend.’ Interestingly, it’s a word she once used to describe a track by Bon Iver; ‘Blood Bank,’ which features similar tones and imagery: ‘It’s so detailed, but in a sporadic way – just like a memory.’ ‘Tis the Damn Season’ feels similar; fragmented, almost like a vignette.
‘Dorothea’ has been said to be a companion song, as hinted at by Swift herself: ‘Dorothea, the girl who left her small town to chase down Hollywood dreams – and what happens when she comes back for the holidays and rediscovers an old flame.’ On ‘Coney Island,’ Swift adopts a similar approach to telling a story, this time having the assistance of The National’s Aaron Dessner at hand over the gentle, plucky guitar, drumbeats and faint piano.
However, it is her collaboration with Bon Iver that serves as not only the perfect conclusion to the album but as a track that is highly relevant to the state of the world currently. Barring the bonus tracks that were released recently, ‘Evermore’ is the last one we hear, and opens with a sense of hopelessness that hits far too close to home: ‘Grey November, I’ve been down since July.’ To start with, it’s a solitary song that features only Swift’s lament over slow piano; that is, until Justin Vernon bursts onto the scene with powerful, reedy vocals that are reminiscent of his work on Bon Iver’s self-titled album; springy, bright, a stream of sunshine breaking through Swift’s melancholic daze. Again, we hear the tempo change, the piano becoming more purposeful and driven as Vernon sings along. Swift joins in and as the two’s vocals slowly die down we are brought back to the tempo of the starting point. But this time over that gentle piano, she assures listeners that ‘this pain wouldn’t be for evermore.’
Ultimately, it’s an emblem of hope that is needed, a warm tale that brings evermore to a tentatively positive ending amongst the dying cinders of 2020. It is an album that will endure tougher times to come, and will hopefully carry us once more through to better ones.
Words by India Fishburn