evermore

Courtesy of Billboard

Just as we were all beginning the long road to recovery from “folklore,” Taylor Swift entranced the world again with “evermore,” a musical incarnation of enchanted woodlands and ancient relics.

Released midnight Friday, after a surprise announcement Thursday morning, “evermore” is a collaboration between Swift and her faithful co-conspirators Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner, among other featured artists. The 15-track project emerged just five months after the release of “folklore,” which Swift deems its sister album.

Swift’s growth and flexibility shine on “evermore,” an alloy of pop, folk-country and the stripped-back indie style the artist perfected on “folklore.” Her lyrics are sharper than ever before as she experiments under the wing of new musical influences, and her voice has matured gracefully, a feat sure to benefit her next big undertaking — the re-recording of her first six albums.

Premier track “willow” offers a more grown-up take on the subject matter of “invisible string,” a fan-favorite on “folklore.” With subtle flamenco influences and hushed, pillowy vocals, the track beckons me deep into Swift’s evergreen dreamland. Her albums are historically top-heavy, and this one is no exception — “willow” is a perfect precursor to the denser first half of the album.

In just two words, Swift has encompassed all the complexities of being a twenty-something — “champagne problems.” Written by Swift and her long-time partner Joe Alwyn, who uses the alias William Bowery, this floaty piano ballad has the potential to become a top-40 triumph or a hidden gem. Superbly climactic and never missing a beat, this track is among the most memorable on the album.

Candidly covetous “gold rush” flashes an intimate snapshot of loss and longing. Through Swift’s lens, the listener sees coastal dreamscapes and shades of blush that begin to fade as jealousy and tumult take over in a relationship. Though Swift is often praised for her bridges, the chorus steals the show in this track with its clever, pulsating rhymes and emotional intensity.

“‘tis the damn season” is a standout vocally and instrumentally, pairing echoed strings with Swift’s layered harmonies. This track transports the listener to a lonely holiday at home, further complicated by the urge to reignite an old flame. With hardly enough time before some of us are gripped by seasonal gloom, Swift lures us all into a festively melancholic haze.

A “Goodbye Earl” for a new generation, “no body, no crime (feat. HAIM)” is the twangy murder story that finds its way onto every country artist’s (or former, in Swift’s case) discography eventually. Swift and the HAIM sisters are an irresistible quartet, unraveling the clues to a stirring mystery that stars two best friends, a cheating husband and his mistress.

Dripping with old-timey charm, “dorothea” evokes a melodramatic John Hughes-era teen romance, pivoting on small-town character tropes that I found delightfully relatable. I couldn’t get enough of the quippy, tender lyrics — “Skipping the prom just to piss off your mom and her pageant schemes / And damn, Dorothea, they all wanna be ya / But are you still the same soul I met under the bleachers?” …I’ll have what she’s having.

Haunting and seductive “ivy” is a tale of infidelity disguised at first as a love song, lacing together the extremes felt during an affair — anxiety and relief, remorse and pleasure. The simple acoustics and soft harmonies make “ivy” one of the prettiest songs on the album and one I can’t get out of my head. Swift has a remarkable talent for humanizing the characters in a story that we most often equate with their flaws.

Swift’s axial tilt toward brisk-paced pop prevails on “long story short,” a real treat and my favorite track on the album. In the aftermath of a bad time, the wrong guy and some petty things, Swift revels in a moment of peace and healing. Backed by buoyant percussion and delicate synths, the chorus is a windows-down jam, but the bridge – a sentimental note from Swift to her younger self – renders me speechless.

Swift and Bon Iver are a somber duo once again on “evermore,” the title track and album closer.

Accompanied by an intricate piano melody, the dreary-winter-day ballad showcases the best of both artists, who should probably go ahead and record an entire album together. Swift saved one of the best for last with this treasure.

The title of the album and its closing track are suspected by fans to be a salute to the final line in Emily Dickson’s famous poem “One Sister Have I in Our House,” which states, “From out the wide night’s numbers — Sue — forevermore!” The date of the album’s release also happened to be the day Dickinson was born in 1830.

With symbols and patterns still to be uncovered, “evermore” will be on my radar well into the upcoming year. The album boasts six additional tracks, including a moving tribute to Swift’s grandmother, a hidden Marcus Mumford feature and a brilliant collaboration with The National. The deluxe edition, not currently available for streaming, will include two bonus tracks sure to be as enchanting as the rest. As she enters her 31st year and ninth era, Swift is an unstoppable force.

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