REVIEW: Maggie Rogers' archival album has multiple gems, showcases her musical journey
Though Maggie Rogers may feel like a new artist, she’s been quietly releasing music online since she was fresh out of high school, in 2012. As she explains in the commentary tracks on the deluxe version of the project that I’m reviewing herein, this old trove of songs was taken down in 2016 when Rogers graduated from university with the assumption that she would be a music journalist. She’d worked Lizzy Goodman during the writing of her popular NYC indie rock biography Though Maggie Rogers may feel like a new artist, she’s been quietly releasing music online since she was fresh out of high school, in 2012. As she explains in the commentary tracks on the deluxe version of the project that I’m reviewing herein, this old trove of songs was taken down in 2016 when Rogers graduated from university with the assumption that she would be a music journalist. She’d worked Lizzy Goodman during the writing of her popular NYC indie rock biography and had assumed this would be a realistic career path… as long as her own music didn’t discredit her and “hurt [her] objectivity.” Thus, years of work was scrubbed off of the most visible streaming services (minus Bandcamp) right as Rogers went viral due to a video of Pharell Williams visiting her class at NYU in which he had an emotional reaction to a song she made as a homework assignment. That song became “Alaska,” her first major label single. The songs that disappeared retreated to the shadows, eclipsed by the massive success of “Alaska” and her 2019 album Heard It In A Past Life.
It wasn’t until last Friday that these songs finally got their due in the form of Notes From the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016. Split into four sections that encompass different eras of Maggie’s artistic journey, the best of what came before is collected on this LP. Some sections are, of course, better than others. Coming into your own is often an uneven, awkward experience and that’s reflected here. But each is special in their own way, painting a picture of who Rogers was at that time and what was important to her.
The album begins with her “rock EP” from 2016; a break-up project laced with mournful nostalgia. It shows a completely different Maggie Rogers; one more interested in pulling on Cocteau Twins and shoegaze than Taylor Swift and indie pop. Intro track “Celadon & Gold” is dreamy, pretty, and yearning, and yet somehow it doesn’t sound like anything you’d hear on Heard It In A Past Life. The electronic influence of that record is nowhere to be found and it’s amazing the difference it makes, allowing Maggie’s voice to feel warmer, and even older, than the airy production on her debut record. “Together” goes even heavier on the dream pop influence, but it really works! Perhaps this isn’t the kind of music she wants to make in 2020, but it deserved a release in some form, showing off how multi-faceted Rogers has the ability to be. The section peaks with “One More Afternoon,” a song reflecting back on first love with a hazy chorus and an ending that drifts off into light psychedelia. If Maggie ever wanted to go back to this sound, I certainly wouldn’t complain.
2014 album Blood Ballet, from her sophomore year at university, is the second, and the longest, section. It’s a lot younger sounding than the EP tracks, but it has some high moments to be found among some half-baked ideas. The title track is a simple, lo-fi track about a toxic relationship; similar to anything you’d find on an indie singer-songwriter Bandcamp page. But “Resonant Body” starts to sound like the Maggie Rogers we do know; it has banjo, layered vocals, and folk storytelling. The lyricism isn’t her strongest, but that’s to be expected on an early project. By “Little Joys,” she really starts to find her folksy feet, with a sound very similar to what could be found in a more recent release. It’s got a great bridge, too. The final song of the bunch, “James,” is full of yearning for her first boyfriend. It rounds out the project by incorporating some pretty banjo again, but it’s got a bit of a non-chorus. Overall, Blood Ballet is held back by disjointed, simplistic songwriting despite being the most indicative of Maggie Rogers to come. It might appeal the most to die-hard Maggie fans, but it doesn’t really add anything exciting to her official discography.
A song with Del Water Gap from 2013 comprises the short third section, called “New Song.” Personally, I love it; I can be a fan of a cutesy country duet, as it turns out. It tells the story of an imperfect, youthful relationship that both parties choose to stay in anyway. It’s got a lovely end refrain. It isn’t the best song on the album, but it is emotionally resonant in ways Blood Ballet never quite gets close to.
And finally, The Echo. The Echo was the first ever album released by Maggie in 2012, recorded when she was still a senior in high school. It’s obviously advanced for that stage of life; “Anybody” is another yearning song, but the songwriting is reasonably mature and flows with ease. I also enjoyed “Wolves” and “Satellite”, the former containing a wonderful string arrangement and the latter being an epic, cathartic ballad. The vocal stylings on “Wolves” are underdeveloped to say the least but, hey, she was eighteen! It’s clear that she was attempting ambitious things for her age, even if her music would evolve past her interests on this project.
Who is this collection for, though? I imagine that only big Maggie fans will really get a kick out of it, or even check it out at all. It’s interesting to track her path as a musician, but that’s not something everyone will find interesting. That being said, the rock EP deserves any attention it gets. There are some genuinely great songs in here, despite being unpolished, and it only makes me more excited to see what direction Maggie does decide to pursue in the future.
McKinzie Smith is a former film student from Portland, OR. In her adolescence, she followed Fall Out Boy up and down the West Coast. She now considers herself very cool and normal and only a little bit emo. She now spends most of her time listening to Charli XCX in her kitchen and writing articles about things she likes.