New Music Reviews – Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers, Perfume Genius

This week I look at new releases by pop-superstar-turned-indie-folkster Taylor Swift, singer songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, and chamber-pop artist Perfume Genius. Coincidentally, veteran drummer Jim Keltner plays on two of these releases.

All three of these records are currently placed among the eight most acclaimed records of the year according to the critical aggregation thread at:

Taylor Swift


If there’s a complaint of Taylor Swift’s career to date, it’s that everything has seemed so calculated. Her albums are almost always released at two year intervals, with a meticulously planned release campaign. Her lead singles have become progressively more execrable, calculated to stimulate maximum pop synapses. It was a surprise when Swift announced a album created in quarantine, then released it the next day.

Folklore is markedly different than Swift’s previous work – opener ‘The 1’ starts with minimalist piano, with Swift cussing in the first line. Swift feels emancipated, free to make the “indie record that’s much cooler than mine”. Her main collaborators on Folklore are Jack Antonoff and The National’s Aaron Dessner, who shared the co-writing duties with Swift on these gentle indie-folk tracks.

The marked change in style has helped Swift’s credibility. She’s always been an outstanding songwriter, right back to when she wrote ‘Our Song’ for her school talent quest in her early teens, but the more relaxed tone on Folklore has increased her appeal. She’s often been accused of taking too much material from her love life, but here she’s more like a novelist, writing narratives like ‘Cardigan’, ‘August’ and ‘Betty’ – accounts from all three corners of a love triangle.

Swift’s vocal melodies are gorgeous on tracks like ‘August’ and ‘Invisible String’. ‘Cardigan’ doesn’t feel like a lead single, but there’s no obvious single choice on a subdued, introspective record. ‘Mad Woman’ has a beautiful piano introduction, while the duet with a non-falsetto Justin Vernon on ‘Exile’ provides a rare moment of variety. Folklore is very good, it simply feels overlong, with 16 songs running over an hour and little stylistic variation. It’s difficult to know what to cut though, as none of the tracks are obviously weak.

Despite the different style, Folklore has enjoyed massive success – it only took a week to become the year’s best selling album in America. Swift’s on her eighth album, and the credibility-boosting Folklore bolsters an impressive catalogue.

Phoebe Bridgers


Los Angeles singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers released the excellent debut A Stranger in the Alps, in 2017, but has since worked in collaborative settings. She collaborated with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker in Boygenius, then paired up with Conor Oberst for last year’s Better Oblivion Community Center. She’s back solo for Punisher, although Davis, Baker, and Oberst all contribute vocals.

Where A Stranger in the Alps was emotional and acoustic, Punisher pushes Bridgers into different territory, more eclectic and more electronic. These songs are subtler than before, but while I prefer Bridger’s crystalline voice in an acoustic setting, it does a great job of expanding her sonic palette.

The stream-of-consciousness lyrics recalls the songwriting confidence of peak-era Neil Young or Bob Dylan. Seemingly disconnected images paopulate these tracks. Most infamous is ‘Moon Song’ with its line “We hate Tears in Heaven/But it’s sad that his baby died” – which has upset the Eric Clapton fans paying attention.

Lead single ‘Kyoto’ was originally one of the gentlest songs on the record, but Bridger’s producer persuaded her to turn it into an upbeat number with horns and an insistent beat. Where Stranger sounded warm and welcoming, Punisher is often cold and unsettling, although the opening ramble of ‘DVD Menu/Garden Song’ and the countrified ‘Graceland Too’ will both probably satisfy Strangers fans.

While I don’t enjoy Punisher as much as Stranger – it certainly takes longer to enjoy – Bridgers seems destined to be a major artist who’ll be round for the long haul, and Punisher is a fascinating record that deepens her artistry.

Perfume Genius

Set My Heart on Fire Immediately

Mike Hadreas has been releasing albums as Perfume Genius since 2010 – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately is his fifth full-length. Hadreas has told interviewers that creating and performing the dance piece The Sun Still Burns Here has changed his approach, making his music more extroverted and universal. He nanes Townes Van Zandt, Enya, and the Cocteau Twins as influences on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Perfume Genius is a gifted arranger – his atmospheric chamber-pop songs boast creative string parts. The impossibly ascending coda to ‘Jason’ is a moment of arranging brilliance. Chamber-pop is Perfume Genius’ most distinctive style, but I find his voice overly querulous on the slower tracks like ‘Moonbend’ and ‘Borrowed Light’.

I prefer Perfume Genius when he’s aiming for the pop jugular. ‘Describe’ marries heavy guitars and great pop instincts, while ‘On The Floor’ bounces along joyfully. The straightforward pop of ‘Without You’, and the big dramatic strings of ‘Your Body Changes Everything’ are also keepers, and ‘Nothing At All’ balances pop hooks with personal confession.

I don’t love all of Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, but the songs that connect are excellent.


Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


    • Thanks for listening. Perfume Genius was my least favourite of the three albums altogether, as it gets bogged down in chamber-pop sometimes, but the highlights are super good.

  1. That’s a good question with the Taylor Swift album – how to reduce the overall quantity, when there aren’t really discernible dips in quality in any of the tracks?

  2. I like the music arrangement on the Perfume Genius song. The vocals took a backseat but it sounds good…a dreamy quality.

  3. Taylor Swift – might be long, but it is well-written and her most consistent record since ‘1989’.
    Phoebe Bridgers – knew about her in ‘Boygenius’, listened to this and her last album – they’re damn good. Can’t wait to see what she’s got up to offer in the future.

    • I think Folklore is straight out Swift’s most consistent album – it’s amazingly good for how long and homogeneous it is.
      I’ve been listening to Julien Baker from boygenius a lot recently as well. I’ve never managed to get into Lucy Dacus’ stuff yet though.

Leave a Reply

More from Aphoristic Album Reviews

Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.

Default image
Aphoristical View Profile
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.

Review Pages

Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:

Charli XCX Album Reviews

Charlotte Emma Aitchison took her stage name from her teenage MSN Messenger handle. Of part Indian heritage, Aitchison experiences sound-to-colour synaesthesia, […]
Echo & the Bunnymen Album Reviews

Echo & the Bunnymen vocalist Ian McCulloch started his career in the humbly named Crucial Three, alongside Julian Cope and […]
The Replacements Let It Be
The Replacements Album Reviews

Yet another great musical act to come out of the state of Minnesota (see also Bob Dylan, Prince, Hüsker Dü, […]
Elton John Album Reviews

Sir Elton Hercules John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, in London. He learned the piano as a child and started […]
Kacey Musgraves Album Reviews

Born in Texas, a year before fellow country star Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves has followed a markedly different musical path. […]
Sheryl Crow Album Reviews

Sheryl Crow was already on the wrong side of 30 when she released her debut album. After attending the University […]

Blog Posts

I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections:

10 Best Billy Joel Songs

Despite his talent, it took Billy Joel a long time to find success. He played piano on the Shangri-Las’ ‘Remember […]
10 Best Big Star Songs

Alex Chilton was already a star when he joined forces with the Icewater. Icewater’s members – singer/guitarist Chris Bell, bassist […]
Mitski: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Japanese-American indie-rock musician Mitski is one of the most interesting figures currently working in popular music – Iggy Pop famously […]
New Order Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best

When Ian Curtis committed suicide on the eve of an American tour, it marked the end of Joy Division. Guitarist […]
10 Best Albums of 2019

I didn’t enjoy any single album from 2019 as much as I liked Mitski‘s Be The Cowboy in 2018. Nevertheless, […]
The Police: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Stewart Copeland, Sting, and Andy Summers were all veteran musicians when they formed The Police in London in 1977. Copeland […]