Review Summary: An enjoyable counterpart to folklore which illuminates some of the record's previously overlooked subtleties.
If there was something missing from folklore
, it was that the album’s “indie-folk” premise felt betrayed by its insistence on conducting itself as a series of slow pop songs. ‘seven’ was charming and hauntingly rustic, and the harmonica was a nice touch on ‘betty’, but for the most part folklore
couldn’t be distinguished by an unknowing ear from Reputation
’s or Lover
’s downtempo ballads. Tossing in a Bon Iver feature seemed like a desperation move – a hail mary attempt to reach an aesthetic that the other sixteen tracks couldn’t. In spite of all this, folklore
was still a superb record – arguably even her best – because regardless of genre categorization, the songwriting was excellent. It also moved the spotlight on Taylor Swift’s relationships/feuds/politics back to her music, which has always been the most interesting thing about her. For these reasons and more, folklore
deserved the shine that it received in 2020.
What these Long Pond Studio Sessions
do is finally realize the stripped-down atmosphere that Swift was aiming for all along. The entire album was re-recorded in a small live studio (a cozy and plush cabin in Hudson, NY) with Aaron Dessner and Jack Antonoff, and the intimate setting lends it a sense of heightened contemplation. Sans much of the percussion and nearly all of the frills that wrapped a bow around folklore
, we’re merely left with the skeletal versions of these tracks. Swift’s voice sounds bare and exposed at times, which is precisely what folklore
needed to make it a believable “quarantine folk album.” Many of the tracks undergo very subtle tonal shifts and instrumental variations compared to their original counterparts, but the starkest difference here comes via ‘mirrorball’s fantastic re-imagining as an all-acoustic track, replete with a piano flourish which highlights the emotional delivery of the outro. A close second is her breathtaking performance on ‘illicit affairs’, which floats atop pristinely flowing guitars while providing a backdrop that draws the emotion out of some of her very best lyrics: “For you, I would ruin myself a million little times.” Long Pond
is worth the ticket price just for these moments.
Aside from scaling everything back to an almost demo-like state, most of Long Pond Studio Sessions
doesn’t reveal anything new other than an appreciable sense of proximity. The songs aren’t substantially restructured in any way, while the melodies and delivery remain mostly familiar. Long Pond
could have split the album open and sent us spiraling into a ravine of improvised creativity, but it sticks pretty close to the itinerary instead. In some ways that’s mildly disappointing, but this piece otherwise delivers exactly what it promises with a gorgeously exposed take on folklore
. Other than watching the accompanying film, the best aspects of these sessions can be gleaned from understated differences that only a passionate folklore
fan would notice: pronounced inflections, cracks in Swift’s voice, and an overall atmosphere which feels candid, cozy, and warm. While it’s not quite essential
, it’s certainly an enjoyable counterpart to folklore
which illuminates some of the record's previously overlooked subtleties.