ALBUM: Now That The Light Is Fading
ARTIST: Maggie Rogers
Album release date: February 17, 2017
Solitude, Sweetness, & Clubbing
Maggie Rogers is new to mainstream, but she’s been making music for a long time. The Easton, Maryland native grew up in a rural setting, playing the banjo and the harp, writing folk music reflective of her sensitive spirituality. She attended New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded music, honing her skills as a producer and musician, always making sure to punctuate her academic schedule with trips into the wild: solitary hiking is a favorite activity of Rogers, a demure-looking, unaffected 22-year-old who wears high-waisted jeans and turtlenecks (and makes them look dang cool).
After decades of writing folk music (and releasing four folk projects on bandcamp), Rogers became stuck in a creative rut during her first year at university. She went abroad for a time to study and to hopefully dislodge the visionary dam. While she was in Berlin a friend invited her to go clubbing.
Rogers was hesitant: she knew what clubbing implied in New York, and it wasn’t her bag. When her friend reassured her that they’ll turn you away from clubs in Berlin unless you’re wearing sneakers – if you’re in heels, they know you’re not there to dance, so you’re out – she gave it a go. After that experience, she realized that dance music is “built into mental health,” in Germany – that there was something she describes as magic about being swayed, collectively, by something invisible. This experience of shared conviviality reawoke the elusive stirring, and she returned to the States eager to create dance music “steeped in nature.”
Fame had never been part of the plan: all Rogers wanted was to create music every day and somehow make a living doing it. But when Pharrell came to the music school to host a master class in March 2016, he was enthralled by Roger’s new song Alaska, which she wrote and produced. Visibly moved while listening to the song in a clip that quickly went viral online, Pharrell pronounced that her music was unlike anything he’d ever heard. A few months later, Rogers released an EP with a finished version of Alaska, and the denizens of Reddit music fans fomented an ecstatic following in a matter of days.
The sound that struck Pharrell and thousands of new listeners can best be described as tropical house/R&B/electric folk: or something like that.
The EP definitely sounds main stream, and one has to wonder if Rogers’ movement into electronica had everything to do with mental health. Dance music is what’s “in” right now: it’s marketable, unlike folk music. Even so, one can’t help but be impressed by Rogers’ production skills, which are on bright display here; and her attachment to folk and nature comes through in a variety of ways (in particular, Color Song is an austere, triply-layered acapella tune that reminds one of an old hymn, and remains entirely outside of the dance music realm). The song that put her on the map, Alaska, has a catchy synth-pop vibe; but it maintains an oddly worshipful undertone even as it winds through an R&B chorus (which Rogers sings in a sustained, difficult to understand falsetto) and chugs along with cinematic drama. Bird sounds, snatches of conversation, the thud of a falling tree, and Rogers tapping on her jeans all contribute to a web of unusual tones beneath the electronics. “My goal really was to make pop music feel as human as possible,” Rogers says.
The strongest, and most unique, aspect of Rogers is her character. It’s evident in interviews, in her writing, and in her manner of approaching this sudden surge of fame that she believes in something larger than herself, larger than success. There is wisdom beneath her nonchalant manner of singing and speaking, a clear-eyed self-understanding that few in her situation possess.