In 2012, on her hit single We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Taylor Swift expressed her disappointment in an ex-boyfriend for listening to “some indie record that’s much cooler than mine.” Now, with album number eight, she’s finally made a cool one of her own. Folklore, begun in April when she should have been preparing for massive concerts supporting last year’s big-budget album, Lover, was written mostly with Aaron Dessner of critically adored indie band The National and also features a duet with the equally venerated Bon Iver.
In her statement announcing the surprise release yesterday, Swift admitted that in other circumstances she might have “overthought” it. It’s impressive to see what she can do when she streamlines her operation – no big aesthetic concepts, extravagant videos or stadium shows, just a black-and-white photo of her in the woods in a big coat, lower case typography and 17 largely exquisite ballads. The Bon Iver piano duet, Exile, is particularly lovely, as is Seven, a wisp of a song that demands the listener really leans in.
She hinted at this direction before on Lover’s title track, a soft strum that sounded like hushed alt-rock band Mazzy Star. Now she sits somewhere between Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, whose beautiful album At Swim Dessner also produced, and the plush torch songs of Lana Del Rey, whose co-writer Jack Antonoff also plays a prominent role here.
Ryan Adams gave Swift a patronising indie makeover in 2015 when he re-recorded her album 1989 with scuzzy guitars. In her own hands, the transition is subtler and suits her perfectly. She still can’t write a song that isn’t immediately catchy, but the delicate textures in the music are something new and highly attractive. Folklore is definitely one for that snobby ex to add to his collection.