Taylor Swift’s 8th studio album Folklore came out of nowhere — rare for the artist who is usually dedicated to well-crafted marketing plans to announce new music. Much like the announcement itself, the 16-track indie-folk album is unlike any work Taylor has put out in the past. It’s reflective and whimsical, soft yet deep, and characterized with cascading piano sequences, haunting vocals, brilliant violin, and soft guitar strings. But to say this album comes full circle to Taylor’s country roots would be an undermining mistake to her musical growth.
Unlike Lover and Reputation, there are no exhilarating pop anthems on this album. Aside from “August” and “Invisible String” the majority of the songs are gentle and slow — requiring casual listeners and fans alike to listen carefully to each one. From the song titles (all lowercase) to the production (poetic) this album is unlike anything in Taylor’s 14-year discography. Perhaps the closest comparison is “Safe and Sound” her Hunger Games feature.
What sets Folklore apart from other work, in particular, are the vague muses. It’s naive to claim that this work is autobiographical as Lover or even Reputation were. No, the isolation-induced creativity shines here without the aid of tabloid narratives or Taylor’s need to reclaim her identity for herself. In an Instagram post, she clearly states her creative process with the album, “I found myself not only writing my own stories, but also writing about or from the perspective of people I’ve never met, I’ve known, or those I wish I hadn’t.”
Organic songs like “the 1” and “hoax” are chilling enough without traditional pop-production. The result is a laid-bare album that perfectly captures autumn nights with cider and contemplative thoughts, something that follows distinctly in the path of artists like Hozier, Mumford and Sons, and The Lumineers.
But the tone and the overall aesthetic of Folklore don’t betray the Taylor from the past two albums — a strong, determined, and confident woman. The album contains 5 explicit songs, each of which don’t hold back or use expletives for the sake of using them. Taylor describes “Mad Woman” as “a misfit widow getting gleeful revenge on the town that cast her out.”
Everything about this album is haunting, in the way traditional folklore often is. From the clever, meticulous vocabulary that doesn’t trip the flow of the lyrics with words like “marvelous” “clandestine” “dwindling” and “illicit.” It’s a visual album too, in a way, coaxing listeners into the storybook land Taylor has created — from lush forests twinkling in broad daylight to the inside of a desolate, abandoned cabin in the woods, every song captures a feeling or place or story in a perfect way.
What Folklore does best is prove that Taylor Swift manages to reinvent herself with every new album she releases, while somehow managing to stay true to her core and heart every time — and she’s one of the only artists who can do so successfully. Folklore may not be a fan favorite for the traditional pop crowd but it showcases yet another change in sound from Taylor Swift and she makes it entirely her own, yet again.
You can listen to Folkore here.