Unmetal Monday // 7/27/2020

There’s a lot happening in the music world, and we here at Heavy Blog try our very best to keep up with it! Like the vast majority of heavy music fans, our tastes are incredibly vast, with our 3X3s in each Playlist Update typically covering numerous genres and sometimes a different style in each square. While we have occasionally covered non-metal topics in past blog posts, we decided that a dedicated column was warranted in order to more completely recommend all of the music that we have been listening to. Unmetal Monday is a bi-weekly column which covers noteworthy tracks and albums from outside the metal universe, and we encourage you all to share your favorite non-metal picks from the week in the comments. As is tradition, we’ll be highlighting a few albums and tracks that struck our fancy over the past few weeks. Head past the jump to dial down the distortion:

Taylor Swift Folklore

I mean, we couldn’t have let this column come and go without talking about a surprise Taylor Swift record. Historically, I wouldn’t consider myself a “Swifty”. But my life since Swift’s 2006 self-titled debut has been saturated with her music, whether I like it or not. Swift is a cultural icon, and my sisters, colleagues, friends, and various other humans in my life have helped make that status a reality through their deeply held devotion, so pardon me for my singing along to “Our Song” out of sheer reflex. The last several years have seen Swift experiment with her country-turned-pop aesthetic in more aggressive ways and with more mixed results. Her last two records Reputation and Lover have divided her fanbase with the rest of the American pop music-listening populace more starkly than ever before (though without much difference in commercial success), so the surprise announcement of Folklore was most certainly cause for cultural attention. Whether you consider yourself a die-hard Swifty, a casual listener, or a bonafide hater, it’s hard to deny that Folklore is one of Swift’s most cohesive and interesting releases yet. 

While I may not consider myself the biggest fan of Swift, I most certainly am an unashamed fanboy of The National. Which is relevant here due to Aaron Dessner’s (guitarist and principal songwriter for the band) distinct involvement in this project. As a producer, co-writer and musician, over two-thirds of the record bears his distinct fingerprint, along with his brother Bryce’s beautiful compositional skills. The tracks that feature their involvement are among the most lush, subtle, and vibrant tracks of Swift’s career. The instrumental for opener “The 1”, with its clockwork melancholic piano codas and pleasantly stuttering guitar work, could have been pulled directly from I Am Easy to Find, feeling very close to the latest expansion of Dessner’s main gig. Bon Iver makes a special appearance on another Dessner-helmed track, “Exile”, which may be the most emotionally effective song I’ve heard from Swift, with Justin Vernon’s vocals providing a definitive and beautiful counterpoint to Swift’s smoky delivery. It’s in these moments that Folklore shines brighter than most of Swift’s discography, making for an at bare minimum thoroughly pleasant listen. 

But I think Swift would have done more justice to this record if she’d left Dessner to helm the entire thing. Ubiquitous pop producer Jack Antanoff takes the wheel on tracks like “My Tears Ricochet” and “Mirrorball”, which while not exactly unenjoyable feel more like standard pop/Taylor Swift fare to my ears, which will most certainly appeal to Swift’s longtime fans. But I can’t help help but feel like these tracks could have fit more snugly on a different record. Dessner’s distinct style feels muddled by Antanoff’s direction, adding a disruption to the record’s flow which just feels choppier than it needs to. The tracks themselves are relatively enjoyable, but these widescreen and anthemic pop songs following more subdued, singer-songwriter tracks causes a bit of sonic whiplash. These tracks also bring the album’s length to over an hour, which is just too long and causes certain sections to feel like a slog more than they could have otherwise with a more concise and uniform vision. 

That said, overall Folklore presents a welcome and lush departure for Swift, with some fantastic songwriting and production creating a record that has without question been my most consistently pleasant outing with her music. It’s not a revolutionary step forward in any direction, but instead a more thoughtful and compositionally excellent outing highlighting that Swift’s strengths shine just as brightly when she’s subdued and soulful. It’s not her loudest or most brash effort, but it would be hard to argue that it isn’t her best. 

Jonathan Adams

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