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Growing backward through time: The curious case of Maggie Rogers

| Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Jackie Junco | The Observer

Imagine sitting down to dinner with your freshman year roommate, someone you’ve come to know with the closeness that accompanies sharing a small dorm room. You’ve spent the first year of college together — enough time to make shared memories and inside jokes (remember that time with the birthday cake?) — but it’s still hard to picture her life before she met you. You know and love a version of her, the sum of all of her experiences and personal growth up until this point.

Now imagine your roommate steps away from the table for a moment, and, when she returns, she’s 16 years old again and in love with her lab partner. She just got her driver’s license and she’s never tasted hard liquor. She’s the version of herself before she left home for the first time, before she pierced her nose, before she stole a birthday cake from a men’s residence hall.

This is the kind of time travel Maggie Rogers requires of her listeners on “Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016,” a compilation of her earlier projects and unreleased work. In “Notes from the Archive,” Rogers’ ascent from experimenting in relative obscurity to touring sold-out concert halls across the world has yet to happen.

The journey — musical and personal — which took place between 2011 and 2016 came before “Alaska,” the song that took Rogers 15 minutes to write, about the state she explored on a month-long hike.

Before 2013, when she walked through icy streams and across glacial plains, sloughing off old senses of self as she went. Before she cut her hair short. Before years of writer’s block finally began to thaw. Before the video of Pharrell’s Masterclass opened the door to her professional music career. Before Rogers became an emerging artist and, later, a household name.

Before all that, she was just Maggie. A student and struggling musician wrestling with her own expectations and the fear of failing to meet them. “Notes from the Archive” is a time capsule containing the years leading up to “Alaska” and all that followed.

The pandemic posed a unique question for artists: what kind of music do I want to make in this moment?

Taylor Swift answered with “folklore” and “evermore,” twin surprise albums born from a cabin in the woods. HAIM delayed the scheduled release of “Women in Music Pt. III,” one of the “most anticipated albums of 2020.” Instead of simply looking forward like her contemporaries, Rogers turned her gaze to the past and allowed herself a moment of reflection.

Rogers has referred to the crisis that took root during her time at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, where learning about production and the industry made her question her own musical identity. Despite having established herself securely in the hearts and playlists of her fans, in “Notes from the Archive,” Rogers seems to take the final steps needed to find herself.

This record is a diary read back to front, with Rogers splitting her musical timeline into four periods — her rock band on the Lower East Side, her 2014 indie record “Blood Ballet,” her first band Del Water Gap and her debut record “The Echo.” We hear Rogers age backwards from her final semester of college to her senior year of high school, and the reverse chronology makes her growth and artistic development ever more apparent. It’s an almost Benjamin Button-like structure, and it works.

“I wanted to give you the chance to hear me grow and hear me make mistakes, hear me change,” Rogers says in her introductory commentary, “Because all of those pieces are really beautiful parts of my present, and I don’t feel complete without them in the world.”

Rogers remains true to these younger iterations of herself by leaving the records in their original forms, making them less than perfect but also sincerely honest. This isn’t the Maggie Rogers we came to know after her viral explosion, and definitely not the polished production we would anticipate following “Heard It in a Past Life.” At the same time, “Notes from the Archive” hints at the poetic storytelling, expansive vocals and grounded presence we would now expect from Rogers.

Despite the seemingly overnight success of “Alaska,” Rogers was always trying to find where her story started. To do so, she had to take us back to “before.”

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About Maeve Filbin

Maeve is a senior studying political science and economics at Saint Mary's, as well as Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at Notre Dame. She serves as an Assistant Managing Editor of The Observer, and thinks everyone should support student journalism.

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