As the name suggests, the songs contained in this album are stories unto themselves, each one containing a rich blend of acoustic and vocal sounds that test the bounds of sounds and stylistic qualities that the voice and instruments can make . Each song is unique in its own way, and yet hauntingly familiar, that seem on occasion to draw on aspects of Taylor Swift’s earlier music. Whilst every song stands on its own, the album seems to be interconnected as if it were telling a much larger story than it would initially appear.
Most of the songs in this album are from the point of view of various characters that Swift seems to be lending her voice to, in order for their stories to be heard. Whilst this would typically create a distance and impersonality that is not particularly common in her music, the complete opposite occurs. Each song is distinct and full of heart, with the acoustic accompaniment often being so minimal that the vocal line is left free to roam and discover new melodies on its own. In this way, the songs contained in the album are unpredictable in their style and content. For example, mad woman could easily have come from the ‘Reputation’ album, in the same way that betty could have from Swift’s ‘Love Story’ era, or invisible strings is noticeably stylistically similar to ‘Red’. The only difference with mad woman is the unobtrusiveness of the instrumentals which makes it sound more threatening and darker in a way that the songs from ‘Reputation’ never could be. The references to old songs are what makes folklore so interesting to listen to and is where the sense of closure and finality within the album seems to stem from. It’s almost as if Swift has reflected on her old songs and has approached them with new eyes. The songs with similarities sound more mature and reflective than their earlier counterparts.
With every album, there are some songs that are better than others, but in folklore no song leaves anything more to be desired. With august’s somewhat upbeat guitar accompaniment, Swift has created a timeless song that seems familiar in a way that you cannot particularly pinpoint and just by listening to it, you get a feeling of what summer is meant to be like. In its own way, the song sounds like something the Beatles may have sung once upon a time. In exile, the contrast between Bon Iver’s deep bass and Taylor Swift’s voice, layered on top of a piano accompaniment creates a haunting and memorable piece of music, that stays with you even after its finished by just evoking an indescribable feeling. A familiar tactic is used in epiphany, and the gradual fade in of instruments creates an almost ethereal sound that is reinforced once the singing starts. This song seems to be about people’s sacrifices during war and this pandemic, which Swift draws a comparison between. Writing a song about the hardships that soldiers and health workers face especially now, is brave, mainly because it is incredibly difficult to fully encapsulate that seemingly indescribably feeling and moments that Swift sings about, which is what makes it such a great piece of music.
The great musicians were those who could sing about love and life in a way that everyone could relate to. Taylor Swift has surpassed that. For years she has sung about the individual and more private moments within heartbreak and romance that have set her apart from any other musician. This album is no different, and in many way surpasses all of her previous work. This album is almost a contradiction unto itself in that it provides the listener with enough familiarity and comfort to provide a sense of closure that is welcome in these unprecedented times, and yet deviates in a way that creates a sense of anticipation for newer, better and more exciting things to come.
[ Katerina Partolina Schwartz, she/her ]
[Image Credit: Taylor Swift – cardigan “cabin in candlelight” version (Official Video) screenshot on Youtube]