Album Review: Taylor Swift perfects her ethereal songwriting on ‘evermore’

Greater than the sum of its parts, ‘evermore’ is Swift’s most enrapturing release to date as she continues to raise her own bar.

While the surprise release has become an industry-standard since the release of Beyoncé’s self-titled seven years ago this week, no pop superstar has ever tried to pull it off twice in one year… until now, as Taylor Swift follows up her surprise-released folklore with another album less than five months later. If you were a fan of ‘folklore,’ you’ll find many familiar names on the credits, with producers Jack Antonoff, Bon Iver, and the National’s Aaron Dessner all returning for a well-deserved encore.

While the album is indelibly linked to folklore, evermore has a distinct Red-like flare to it, as she borrows brilliant pop melodies and attaches them to truly poetic lyricism. While folklore lacked any true pop tunes like those found on all of her previous records, “long story short” is just as sugary sweet as “Holy Ground” or “Red.” There are also less evident pop moments: “Gold Rush” could be the synthpop lead from 1989 in another timeline, but here its twinkling motif is handled by piano keys instead of a gleaming synth. “Willow” has verses that see Swift return to her folk roots, but with a chorus melody that sounds like it could sit atop a pop banger like “Shake It Off.” This shift from folklore’s more consistent sound is seemingly reflected in her artworks, as she moves from that black and white cover and returns to the color palette of ‘Red’:

The main problem with (the still excellent) folklore was that its tracklist was just a tad too bloated (“epiphany,” “mad woman”), but evermore does not suffer from the same affliction. More sonic experimentation between all the tracks makes it feel less monotonous, and she builds off the narratives of ‘folklore’ instead of simply recycling them. Every song contributes to the whole, but they all function effectively as individual vignettes. There’s enough parallelism with the predecessor’s sound to retain the fans that she gained and persuade those who may have strayed. While It’s difficult to evaluate evermore without using folklore for context, it’s more than capable of standing up to the scrutiny even when doing so.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about evermore is that it doesn’t feel rushed. Swift has become such an incredible songwriter that these masterpieces are easy to her. All of her melodies are refined, and she seems to write her meters around her lyrics, allowing for the elegiac lines and language that we’ve now seen two albums in a row. While she receives her fair share of praise for her lyricism, her skills as a composer and writer permeate the album and deserve recognition. On “cowboy like me,” as she sings a single note melody on the phrase “I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve,” she pulls out a new melodic line for the word “sleeve” to emphasize its meaning. “dorothea” also exemplifies this phenomenon with its riveting, elongated chorus melody that meets the bar set by the lyrics. These hallmarks of expert songwriting are found on track after track.

That sort of skill now lends itself to Taylor’s confidence that has become apparent in more ways than one. Not only is she comfortable enough to share an album just one week after its last song was completed, she knows that her pen is deft enough to do justice to the life of her own grandmother, who passed seventeen years ago. The somber “marjorie” is a moving eulogy to her late grandmother, an opera singer who Swift credits with inspiring her to pursue music. It debuts its refrain “what died didn’t stay dead” with Swift’s lonely vocal, but soon burgeons into a beautiful choral arrangement that features a snippet of her grandmother’s voice in the background. She effortlessly captures mourning’s everyday persistence, which couldn’t be more topical in a year as morbid as 2020.

What many will overlook is that evermore also confirms that her voice has finally completed its metamorphosis from the diffident one she had for so many years into a respectable instrument. Swift benefits from no longer attempting to sing like a pop star and sound gauche in the process, which was a critical flaw in 1989 and Reputation. Now, she sticks to the roads that she knows best and delivers consistently moving vocal performances. Her wispy and ethereal head voice now offers a pleasant contrast to the sturdy, darker tones of her lower register and pairs phenomenally well with her new musical style.

Swift is notorious for always having her finger on the pulse of her public perception, and that diligence seems to have more than paid off. She took the criticisms that were leveled at her last release – of which there were few – and responded to them in the best way possible: by resolving them. As she follows one incredible record with another, the only question remaining is just how high she can go next.

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