Taylor Swift trims off the fussy intricacies of Folklore studio album in intimate and contemplative concert film

Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is a positioning statement like Taylor Swift's Netflix documentary, Miss Americana; but it is also, more importantly, a musical experience.

The New York Times November 27, 2020 10:58:07 IST
Taylor Swift trims off the fussy intricacies of Folklore studio album in intimate and contemplative concert film

Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions is straightforward and cozy. Taylor Swift, and her two main collaborators and producers for her album Folklore — Aaron Dessner (from The National) and Jack Antonoff (a linchpin of Bleachers and fun, and a producer for Lorde, Lana Del Rey, and others) — play through the 17 songs from the album at Dessner’s Long Pond Studio, a rural haven in Hudson, New York. Conversations between the collaborators introduce each song; birds and insects chirp.

Folklore was released in July, and the documentary was shot in September. Swift, Dessner, and Antonoff perform as a trio on guitars, piano, and a handful of other instruments, stripping away some of the fussy intricacies of the album’s studio versions in a way that heightens the sense of pristine contemplation in the songs. Often the music is just a rippling piano pattern. and a modestly strummed guitar or two, each note precious.

The long pond studio sessions is a small-scale, casual-looking production; Swift is credited as the makeup artist. Mostly it is just three musicians in a room, wearing everyday clothes and headphones, analysing and performing songs they are proud of.

The big twist is that the September sessions were the first time that Swift, Antonoff, and Dessner were together in the same place. During the pandemic, they had each recorded in their own studios, collaborating long-distance. In a nighttime conversation on a deck at the studio, Swift says that playing the songs in real time will “make me realise it’s a real album. Seems like a big mirage.” Musicians deeply miss performing live; with any other album, she would have gone to tour arenas.

Taylor Swift trims off the fussy intricacies of Folklore studio album in intimate and contemplative concert film

Taylor Swift's Folklore is a small-scale, casual-looking production; Mostly it’s just three musicians in a room, wearing everyday clothes and headphones, analysing and performing songs they are proud of.

Swift got her start bringing teen pop scenarios — breakups, crushes, insecurities — to country music. Then she moved decisively into the pop mainstream, trading banjo for synthesizers. The Long Pond Studio Sessions is not the first time she has made clear that she is the songwriter, and not just the singer. The deluxe edition of her 2014 blockbuster 1989, which was made with Swedish pop mastermind Max Martin, included her own demos of some songs, demonstrating her authorship. And last year, alongside her album Lover, she released an extensive archive of journal and diary entries, including song drafts.

Folklore backs off slightly from the bold-outline, clear-cut arena-pop songwriting of albums like 1989 and Red. In quarantine, Swift chose a more introspective approach — but also, as she points out when talking about 'Illicit Affairs,' a choice to be less autobiographical than her past songwriting. For many of the songs, Dessner — one of the main composers behind The National’s somber, reflective rock — sent instrumental tracks to Swift; then Swift came up with words and melodies. In the documentary, Swift says she was nervous about telling her label, “I know there’s not, like, a big single, and I’m not doing, like, a big pop thing.”

But her songwriting remains self-conscious and meticulous. Swift and her collaborators detail the ways that songs on the album overlap with and echo one another. Three of them — 'Cardigan,' 'August,' and 'Betty' — tell the same story from different characters’ perspectives. She explains 'Mirrorball' to Antonoff as a cascade of interlocking images: “We have mirrorballs in the middle of a dance floor because they reflect light. They are broken a million times, and that’s what makes them so shiny. We have people like that in society, too; they hang there, and every time they break, it entertains us. And when you shine a light on them, it’s this glittering, fantastic thing.”

Swift has written and sung — particularly on her 2017 album Reputation — about the pressures of celebrity. On Folklore, she sings about them more subtly in 'Mirrorball,' 'Hoax,' and 'Peace,' coming to terms with her place in the information economy. But she also knows how to feed tabloids. A big reveal from The Long Pond Studio Sessions is that the pseudonymous, no-profile songwriting collaborator on two key songs, 'Exile' and 'Betty,' is her boyfriend, Joe Alwyn. She got her headlines.

For 'Exile' — a cathartic post-breakup ballad that is a duet with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver — Vernon appears remotely, from his own recording setup in Wisconsin. His face is almost entirely concealed behind a bandanna and a baseball cap, but the emotion in his voice rises to meet hers as the song spills over in recriminations.

While The Long Pond Studio Sessions is a positioning statement like her recent Netflix documentary Miss Americana — which revealed her longtime struggle to declare herself as a left-leaning thinker amid the conservative assumptions of country music — it is also, more importantly, a musical experience. Songwriting — mysterious, telegraphic, crafty, and personal as well as potentially lucrative — is Taylor Swift’s mission. Folklore, made under singular circumstances and challenging old reflexes, is likely to be just one step in her trajectory.

Jon Pareles c.2020 The New York Times Company

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Cherry teaser — After Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland and Russo Brothers team up for crime thriller
Entertainment

Cherry teaser — After Avengers: Endgame, Tom Holland and Russo Brothers team up for crime thriller

Cherry will premiere on 12 March on Apple TV, after its release in US theatres on 26 February.

Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese on how Netflix documentary Pretend It's A City tries capturing a long-forgotten NYC
Entertainment

Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese on how Netflix documentary Pretend It's A City tries capturing a long-forgotten NYC

Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese discuss Netflix documentary Pretend It's A City, old friendships, and braving the pandemic

Two-part documentary on Oprah Winfrey to release on Apple TV+ as part of multi-year deal
Entertainment

Two-part documentary on Oprah Winfrey to release on Apple TV+ as part of multi-year deal

The documentary will chronicle 25 years of American history through the lens of Winfrey “who rose from humble roots to become a billionaire, philanthropist, actress, media executive, and agent of social change.”