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critic's notebook

Taylor Swift released Evermore, a follow-up and sister record to the Grammy-nominated folklore, at midnight on Friday.Handout

At the stroke of Friday, Taylor Swift issued Evermore, her second surprise album of the year. But was it a surprise? Yes, in that the record was not a scheduled release. But she had alerted the world on social media that the album was coming.

“I’m elated to tell you that my ninth studio album, and folklore sister record, will be out tonight at midnight Eastern,” the pop star announced on Thursday. In a series of tweets, she emphatically wrote about the loneliness of the holiday season and that she wanted to give her caring fans something because of their past support.

It’s in a journalist’s nature to be cynical. But when Swift went on to mention “deluxe physical edition,” while thoughtfully adding pre-ordering instructions, well, it’s not hard to question her sincerity.

In 2014, more than 500 million people awoke one morning to find a strange new U2 album living in their iTunes library. They hadn’t ordered Songs of Innocence. It was a rude intrusion and an audacious presumption – hell, it was borderline illegal. But it was a legit surprise.

What shouldn’t surprise anyone is that Swift chose to release Evermore so quickly after Folklore, a platinum-selling, melodically immaculate singer-songwriter record with crafted indie aesthetics, elegant third-person perspectives, unabashed salutes to Lana Del Rey and a pair of major Grammy nominations to its name.

Gone are the days when major artists feel any compulsion to space out their albums. Streaming services are insatiable, and so are music fans. With fresh product in such demand, Swift has no reason not to supply more, more and Evermore.

Hip hop artists have been hip to this for some time now, flooding the zone with content. Swift, armed with a new record deal with Universal Music, which gives her ownership of the masters to her recordings, looks at what prolific rappers are doing and says, “Hold my cardigan.”

Evermore isn’t even the first follow up to this summer’s Folklore. The concert film and accompanying live album Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions came out in November.

The aforementioned deluxe edition of Folklore comes with a pair of bonus tracks. The thing is, the whole album feels like bonus tracks – i.e., extras from Folklore. It is indeed a sister record, with the same creative team (co-producers Aaron Dessner of indie-rockers The National and Del Rey affiliate Jack Antonoff) and a repeat guest appearance from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.

The lovely, leisurely Evermore is a richly acoustic alt-pop record, more delicate musically than its predecessor, but still with Folklore soft-focus sounds and wistful lyrical themes. Swift’s voice has never sounded better or more mature (especially on the explicit version of the record).

Mandolins happen.

Tracks of note include No Body, No Crime, a trickling swamp-country number (featuring L.A. pop-rock sisters Haim) that unsmilingly tells a murder tale. Opening cut Willow has a line meant to impress: “But I come back stronger than a 90s trend.”

On Coney Island, Swift slow-dances with the National’s baritone-voiced frontman Matt Berninger. “Singing a song with @taylorswift13 is like dancing with Gene Kelly,” Berninger tweeted after the album’s release. “She made me look good and didn’t drop me once.”

Penultimate track Closure is a gentle clash of acoustic piano and electro-rock percussion. Canadian sister-duo Tegan and Sara, who wrote something similar called Closer, should feel flattered. The album ends with the title song, a poignant autumnal ballad with Bon Iver.

Evermore isn’t as tuneful as Folklore, but its warm tones are gorgeous, and it will never be in danger of sounding dated. It’s a strong, more album-oriented follow-up – a sequel some will like better than its older sister.

Swift isn’t one to stay in the same place too long. She’ll likely break up the Folklore/Evermore team. But who knows? Maybe she’ll surprise us.