Acoustic Sounds

Taylor Swift

Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions



Label: Republic Records

Produced By: Taylor Swift, Aaron Dessner, and Jack Antonoff

Engineered By: Jonathan Low

Mixed By: Christopher Rowe

Mastered By: Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound, Nashville, TN

Lacquers Cut By: Joe Nino-Hernes at Sterling Sound, Nashville, TN

By: Nathan Zeller

June 1st, 2023


Folk Folk Pop



Taylor Swift's Record Store Day Exclusive: "Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions"

the 2020 disney+ documentary soundtrack encapsulates the artist's most vulnerable moments

Black velvet skies, desolate streets, and lilac bags beneath everyone’s somnolent eyes. Is the foreboding purple from sleep deprivation, early morning’s merciless frost, or both? Fossilised fingers despite wool gloves, numb toes underneath double-layer socks; next year remember three pairs. It seems an ordinary Saturday yet early as 3:00 AM record collectors camp outside. Why? Record Store Day; the day Taylor Swift fans receive their yearly limited edition release. 2023 delivered Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions: a Folklore re-recording showcasing the award-winning album’s first in-person rehearsal.

This Record Store Day exclusive offers an unaltered, organic Folklore. The original—recorded across America amidst pandemic restrictions—wove separate recordings together, demonstrating recording technology’s forensic capabilities. However, this method neglects live recording’s magic touch. A soundtrack to the same-titled Disney+ documentary, "Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions" captures the album’s first in-person performance, a rare treat. 

Dire circumstances catalyze artistic breakthroughs. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Supertramp’s Crime of the Century are three fine examples created during financial hardship, public backlash, or inner turmoil. Taylor Swift’s Folklore is no exception. The indie-folk pandemic piece abandoned her radio-friendly pop tendencies, instead exploring darker adult themes. Via three alter-egos, James, Betty, and (fan named, which the artist approved) Augustine, Swift created her first concept album, signifying new artistic territory and endless opportunity. 2020’s Folklore, sharing Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions’ identical lyrics, follows between its three characters a love triangle. Armed with a pencil and inspiration, Taylor Swift embodies her characters, granting her true creative freedom.

Accordingly, Taylor Swift made Folklore’s story a puzzle. Its track order, a chronological head scratcher, demands a solution. Consequently, each listener’s interpretation introduces inevitable personal bias. While this choice produces myriad interpretations, there’s one indisputable inspiration. Rebekah “Betty” Harkness (1915-1982), an American philanthropist and ballet patron, pours the album’s foundation. As sung in “Last Great American Dynasty,” upon marrying William Hale Harkness, Rebekah acquired great wealth. However, William faced heart troubles and after doubtful incautiousness, left Rebekah a widow. Rebekah inheriting William’s Standard Oil fortune raised murder suspicions. Ultimately, the suspicions’ restlessness plagued her life. William’s carelessness marked Rebekah a victim. 

The storyline’s chronological beginning, “Mad Woman,” victimizes Betty. Sung from Betty’s perspective, we learn her boyfriend James abruptly abandoned her, pursuing the love triangle’s third party, Augustine. The song depicts extreme anger: grief’s first stage. Passion fueled, assumptious lyrics (“It’s obvious that wanting me dead/Has really brought you two together”) pepper the track while gruesome metaphors (“And you’ll poke that bear ‘til her claws come out/And you find something to wrap your noose around”) label James the villain. Betty progresses through grieving, reaching “the 1”: the opener accomplishing multiple tasks. First, its opening double entendre, “I’m doing good, I’m on some new shit” provides an artistic “status update” and finds Betty releasing her pain. Secondly, it establishes Taylor Swift’s indie-folk sound. Lastly, as bitterness pollutes the air it portrays two estranged lovers meeting.

Seeking escape, on “Seven” Betty reminisces her childhood romances. Missing love’s juvenile simplicity (“Pack your dolls and a sweater/We’ll move to India forever”), Betty faces severe growing pains (“Before I learned civility/I used to scream ferociously”). Within Folklore’s grim stories “Seven” and its stories provide fresh air. Nevertheless, heartbreak’s forceful knocking frightens Betty as she navigates her lonely life.

Meanwhile, James and Augustine’s honeymoon stage wears thin. In “Mirrorball,” Augustine analogizes a disco ball to herself, light representing summer’s freedom. Once the lights fade, the disco ball’s enamoring reflections cease. Its true appearance—a hollow object holding a thousand broken pieces—reveals itself. “I know the end is near” sings Augustine, understanding her relationship and summer’s end coincide. Augustine fully realises the relationship’s horrors on “Illicit Affairs.” James’ behaviour (“Make sure nobody sees you leave,” “Tell your friends you’re out for a run,” and “Take the road less travelled by”) reveals she was merely a second choice. Augustine recognizes an affair ensnared her.

James confronts Augustine and realises their fast-approaching expiry date. Awareness sweeps James like an unwelcome house spider as his actions torture him. Betty hosts an end-of-summer party, inspiring James’ apology song “Betty.” After leaving Augustine, James attends Betty’s party, fearing her reaction (“But if I just showed up at your party/Would you have me/Would you want me/Would you tell me to go fuck myself”). Betty answers the door, queuing “this is me trying.” James pleads guilty, simultaneously describing his worst summer nights. The lyrics “Pulled the car off the road to the lookout/Could’ve followed my fears all the way down” detail his suicidal temptations, no doubt darker than Taylor Swift’s past material. This best exemplifies the alter-ego’s utility. Here, Swift’s devastating confessions find their welcome home. Without the alter-egos, Swift limits her expressive freedom. Wonderful lyrics paint the track as well, notably “You’re a flashback in a film reel on the one screen in my town,” showing James confessing his feelings. Betty accepts his apology and consequently Augustine—as “august” explains—”slipped away into a moment in time.”

Decades pass. Once more, turmoil plagues Betty and James’ relationship. Processing the past in “cardigan”, Betty remembers James’ abandonment. It shows Betty’s undying faith (“I knew you’d come back to me’) and James’ redemption (“And when I felt like I was an old cardigan/Under someone’s bed/You put me on and said I was your favourite”). Unfortunately, “my tears ricochet” watches negativity prevail and the two split. Long-term partners intertwine until they carry each other’s emotional grief (“If I’m on fire/You’ll be made of ashes too”), which the track observes. As the fifth track, signifying Taylor Swift’s favourite song, it suggests the artist truly understands its emotions. Responding forthcomingly in “Peace,” James admits his shortcomings (“No, I could never give you peace/But I’m a fire, and I’ll keep your brittle heart warm”). Lastly, “Hoax” shows Betty accepting him (“Don’t want no other shade of blue/But you”). As if it were fate, the two settle. Fate reappears through “Invisible String,” which imagines a higher power directing Folklore’s story.

The remaining tracks augment Folklore’s themes. Paralleling “the 1,” “exile (feat. Bon Iver)” depicts a meeting between two estranged lovers. The duet with Taylor Swift’s high, airy vocals and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon’s silky baritone voice create a harmonic contradiction. This reflects the two lovers’ vast differences. The war-inspired “Epiphany” portrays heroes amidst pure chaos grasping peace. Addressing the pandemic, the song compares veterans to medical staff, the pandemic’s soldiers. Though it illustrates gut-wrenching horror stories (“Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother/Holds your hand through plastic now”), the song’s comparison feels inappropriate. Even so, the sentiment echoes Betty’s despair.

The pandemic was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it entirely cancelled Taylor Swift’s tour. On the other, it provided the artist much-needed isolation. The bonus track “The Lakes” shows the artist during isolation, exploring herself and her creative abilities. Its first line, “It is romantic how all of my elegies eulogise me,” finds Swift questioning her writing. Without this crucial moment, Folklore’s conception was unlikely. The song’s “lakes” references the English lake district. In the past, poets and writers found the English lake district seeking public isolation. During their remaining undistracted years, they created their masterpieces. Mimicking this, Swift wrote Folklore’s story alone. She surprise-released the album, avoiding critics’ creative disturbance. Brimming with bold lyrics (“I’ve come too far to watch some name-dropping sleaze/Tell me what are my words worth”), its gorgeous melody and instrumental backing complete the package. Alas, with Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions the sky often isn’t this sunny. 

Yes, this release’s vocal performances outshine their original counterparts. More organic, expressive deliveries shine bright, even revealing the singer’s facial expressions. For example, the listener sees when the singer smiles. Be that as it may, this release has an apparent issue. Frankly, the instrumental backing often deeply bores the listener. The album’s core instrumentals are mostly repetitive and predictable. The original production realised this. It added strings, overdubbed vocals and instruments, percussive effects and more. Without these things, Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Session’s worst moments feel hollow. Effectively, these moments burn the bridge between Folklore’s story and the listener. For example, the original production’s “the 1” features acoustic guitar, electric guitar, synthesisers, viola, violin, percussion, and piano. These essential instruments cloak the song’s true simplicity, immersing the listener. However this version omits many instruments. Consequently, the listener realises the song—alternating mostly between two chords—quickly exhausts itself. Ultimately, this obstructs the artist’s descriptive, persistently playful and witty lyrics. The original production undoubtedly conveys the album’s story much faster. This release’s greatest shame is the story’s comparative inaccessibility. 

Of course, seasoned fans already know the story. This leaves them a rather fantastic package. The matte black jacket—though not a gatefold—features embossed front cover text and a cleverly framed cover photo. Overtop the Disney+ documentary filming location’s picture, the back cover displays the track listing. Inside the jacket, one finds a picture slip: on one side it captures the artist mid-recording, on the other showing session photos and credits. Overall, the visual presentation oozes quality. Sheathed in poly-lined paper inner sleeves are two grey heavyweight discs. This review’s copy arrived warp-free and visually unscathed. As well, its labels are crack and wrinkle free. These aren’t qualities one often sees. 

The package’s biggest attraction isn’t its premium presentation; it’s the magic when the records meet the turntable. Put bluntly, Folklore: the Long Pond Studio sessions sounds outstanding. Taylor Swift’s voice sounds tonally organic, boasting believable size, height, and depth. Additionally, it’s completely sibilance-free. Acoustic instruments (guitars and piano) appear exceptionally detailed and intimate. For instance, as the pianist pumps the sustain pedal, the listener hears and feels it. The release’s single error arises during “Invisible String.” Throughout the track there’s a right channel amplifier buzz. However, as the song’s first live rendition it feels welcome. All things considered, Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions’ vinyl release is possibly Swift’s most audiophile record.

Taylor Swift’s Folklore: the Long Pond Studio Sessions isn’t a demo. Though its performances are barebones like a demo, it’s no work-in-progress. Instead, this release offers fans a more authentic Folklore, better representing the artist’s deeply personal, lyrically courageous, folk-driven pandemic breakthrough. The original may better tell its characters’ stories, but Folklore: the Long Pond Studio sessions tells Taylor Swift’s story.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: B0036425-01

Pressing Plant: Vantiva, Guadalajara, Mexico

Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Presentation: Multi LP