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Maggie Rogers: A natural talent

| Wednesday, February 22, 2017

maggie_webJoseph Han

Imagine if Pharrell Williams gave you the highest praise he could put into words before you even released your major label release. It would be pretty hard to surpass that feeling; it would be even harder to create an album under the pressure of that praise.

That is the problem Maggie Rogers faced upon releasing her new EP, “Now That the Light is Fading.”  The record comes in the wake of Pharrell hyping Maggie as a “singularity,” and even comparing her to Wu Tang Clan. Thankfully, “Now That The Light Is Fading” proves Maggie Rogers worthy of the phrase. As Katherine St. Asaph at Pitchfork so aptly put it, “In 2017 [“Now That the Light is Fading] fits right in: a gently lilting beat that vaguely evokes tropicalia along with a falsetto pre-chorus that vaguely evokes R&B.”

“Now That Light is Fading” is not itself a “singularity,” but it does combine interesting folk and synth elements into something unique. The EP’s fantastic opener, “Color Song,” evokes a hike in the forest taken as the sun just starts to set. It sparks to life like a campfire framed by the stars and a childhood folk song. It is the most folk-oriented track with zero instruments — the track consists of vocals and crickets chirping in the background. Although the track is minimalistic, the production is top notch. Rogers’s vocals are layered elegantly upon each other; sonic gaps hiss between them like a mystic wind.

The second track on the album, “Alaska,” has already seen popular success as a single, racking up over 27 million plays on Spotify. Although Pharrell may have exaggerated its distinctiveness, he was right about its merits. While the album’s underlying focus is hiking and nature, it is also about self-discovery as a young adult. “Alaska” has Rogers crooning, “I’m inhaling / You and I, there’s air in between  / Leave me be,” trying to get over a past love. “Alaska” also has the EP’s most infectious chorus — just try to listen without getting it stuck in your head.

“On + Off,” my personal favorite from the EP, finds Rogers singing about love once again. This time, she dissects an “on again, off again” relationship. One of the most interesting parts of the song is subtle but genius: The piano plays a single note repeatedly, yet the tone never hits both ears at the same time — instead, it creates a hidden rhythm as it pans constantly around the listener.

Upon release of “Alaska,” listeners began clamoring for more music from Rogers. Several months later Rogers released her second single and the third track off the EP, “Dog Years”. “Dog Years” is my least favorite song on the EP, but I cannot quite place my finger on why. It is neither as toe-tapping as “Alaska” nor as minimalist as “Color Song.” That is not to say the production isn’t interesting; Rogers hides samples of birds, snakes, and trees to elevate the song from falling completely flat.

The album closes with “Better.” The lyrics hear Rogers claim, “They could be better,” but the “they” is ambiguous and never directly referenced. Could she be referring to the old days and how they could have been sweeter? From the lyrics, it sounds like Rogers gets sick of the silence between her and her significant other and drives off to somewhere new. Intentionally or not, the closer leaves the listener wondering if Maggie Rogers’s next musical step be ‘better’” too.

Rogers, only 22 years old, has so much potential for her future. She has garnered a massive following, but will she be able to keep it? With this EP, Rogers has taken a step in the direction of synth music and pop music, but her roots lie in folk – she grew up learning to play the banjo. Thus, the questions that must be asked is, “What is next for Rogers”?

Will her next material be more geared towards the synth side or the folk side? Will she be able to surpass her current acclaim? Does she continue to work with Pharrell? One thing is for sure: Maggie Rogers will be an interesting artist to look out for in the coming years. Hopefully she keeps her nature-based production; if anything, that is what keeps her from being lost among the stars.

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