In the summer of 2020, Taylor Swift stunned everyone by surprise releasing the album folklore. The album topped both the charts and was high on year end critics’ polls. In another surprise twist, Swift pulled the same trick and released it’s sister album evermore. Once again using Aaron Dessner from The National as a main producer is a continuing departure for the country pop star. The sole track done with long time favourite Jack Antonoff is a stunner, “gold rush” compares “your hair falling into place like dominoes” over a drum machine beat.
Throughout the album, her lyrics and storytelling are often picture perfect. Swift visits her country origins on several songs including “champagne problems” where the protagonist turns down a marriage proposal and imagines another girl will “patch up your tapestry that I shred”. First single, “willow” is laid back and compares her man to a number of different items. “marjorie” is reportedly about her maternal grandmother who was an opera singer and how she left “all your closets of backlogged dreams”.
Like on folklore, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver makes an appearance on the title track which also features a beautiful piano line. The National’s Matt Berninger has been making the duet rounds recently and appears on “Coney Island” while sister group Haim appear on the crime story of “no body, no crime”.
Along with a Disney + release of the folklore special in November 2020, this release of another 17 songs included in the deluxe copy from December shows just how busy Swift was during the pandemic. Whereas folklore was consistently great, evermore is consistently very good. There is a wealth of riches to be found in both release as Taylor continues to expand her sound and empire.
Originally published in 1844, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas has stood the test of time as one of the finest ever written. It tells the story of an ambitious young sailor Edmond Dantes who is wrongfully convicted of treason when a letter conceived by three of his acquaintances is sent to the authorities. Edmond then spends several years in jail before returning to seek revenge on those who wronged him. At 1200 pages, it is an extraordinary work that feels like it could continue for another 1000 pages. An absolute marvel and one of the best books I’ve ever read.
The 2017 novel by Celeste Ng is a New York Times Bestseller and now a mainstay of book clubs with an adapted TV show from Reese Witherspoon. The story follows the Richardson family from Shaker Heights, OH who rent out an apartment to an Mia and her daughter Pearl. Soon Mia is working for the Richardsons and Pearl is best friends with the kids. The book is a straightforward telling of their lives with a mystery built around Mia’s past. Highly entertaining, it is one that makes you think of what you would do if you were in the character’s shoes.
This high brow short novel by Ian McEwan won the Booker prize in 1998. The death of a former restaurant critic brings many of her former lovers together at the funeral. From there if follows the lives of composer Clive Linley and newspaper editor Vernon Halliday as they handle some of the most important work of their lives. The book is very well written and keeps the reader engaged through its arguments, decisions of its main characters and the ever-present wine drinking.
Flash Boys, the Michael Lewis book from 2014 dives deep into the world of the US stock exchange, big banks, and high frequency traders. The book starts by speaking of the industry’s need for speed where transactions are timed by milliseconds. It also follows the story of the Goldman Sachs case against former employee Sergey Aleynikov for stealing code and Brad Katsuyama, the RBC employee who wanted to change the way the markets do business by creating IEX (Investor’s Exchange). At times the book reads like a movie where the story telling is brisk, funny and exciting. At other times it gets bogged down in financial details. For most people, this would have made for a very engaging article rather than a nearly 300 page book.
5. Haim – Women in Music Pt. III: Released in the early summer, it took another six months before I really listened to the third album from the Haim sisters. Employing a number of musical styles, the band released another set of great songs including their three stellar singles from 2019. Highlights include first track “Los Angeles” and the pop rock of “Don’t Wanna”.
4. Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death: The fiery rock of the band’s debut Dogrel was our favourite album from last year. The band further expanded their sound with added atmosphere and nuance particularly on “Living in America” and “Love is the Main Thing”. Second single “I Don’t Belong” was a highlight as the minimal instrumentation allows singer Grian Chatten’s weariness to shine.
3. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters: Fiona Apple’s first album in 8 years was a staggering accomplishment. It caught many ears when it came out to a locked down world reeling from the early throws of the pandemic. The lyrics are raw as Apple recounts terrible dinner parties, arguments with bandmates, and the fury of “For Her”. “Shameika” is the standout track for it’s uplifting childhood story one liner told over a rollicking piano.
2. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene: Over the past few years, Grimes has been in the media spotlight due to her relationship with billionaire Elon Musk. Not always putting her best boot forward, it’s not always easy being a Grimes fan. But then the latest album drops and all is forgiven. An atmospheric and cinematic delight, the highlights are many. After a few dense soundscapes, the acoustic guitar of “Delete Forever” is standout as is the club beats of “Violence” and pop chorus of “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around”. Grimes is an enigma and truly wonderous musician.
1. Taylor Swift – folklore: Famously in the summer of 2019, pitchfork.com went back and reviewed all the Taylor Swift albums they had otherwise ignored over the years. A year later, Swift released a surprise album in July. She once again worked with Jack Antonoff but also with new collaborator Aaron Dessner from The National. This news was catnip to introspective 40 year old rock fans the world over. At 17 tracks, the album might be a tad long but jumping around, it’s hard to find a wrong note anywhere. Swift makes it sound easy on a run of tracks from “Mirrorball”, “Seven”, the pop of “August”, and the heartbreaking “This is Me Trying”. Then right at the end of the year, Taylor Swift released yet another surprise batch of songs that once again sent music fans scrambling to download and endlessly listen to while parsing through the lyrics.