About three months ago I heard a song, and I knew it was one of those songs. You know, the ones that seem bigger than a single melody with words and a beat and lyrics? The kind that sound poised to interrupt a whole year’s worth of pop and remake it in three minutes. It reminded me of the way I felt when I first heard Lorde, though it didn’t necessarily sound like Lorde.
It didn’t sound like anyone I could think of, the song seemed to exist in its own vacuum, incorporating beat, rhythm, and harmonies into a completely new glitchy folk synergy. It was like the best simple and sweet parts of folk music mixed with the momentum and rush of dance music.
The song was “Alaska” by a New York-based musician named Maggie Rogers, and it turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was blown away on a first listen of Rogers’ work. Actually, as the internet goes, I was a couple months late. But it wasn’t my fault, up until mid-December “Alaska” was the only song Maggie had released.
Her career infamously launched when Pharrell was offering constructive criticism at a master class for NYU students at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Hearing Maggie’s initial single made him tear up. He had zero notes for her song, compared it to the Wu Tang Clan and called her “singular.”
In her introduction to Pharrell, Rogers talks about growing up in a very rural part of eastern Maryland, and how traditional folk music and banjo playing had always been the focus of her work. That all changed when she had to take a couple years off school and traveled to Europe, where she had what she describes as a “spiritual experience” with dance music that changed her life, and subsequently, changed her work.
Whatever spiritual impact Rogers absorbed via her experiences with dance music, she was able to carry that flame with her, and use it to light up her own compositions. Take some time to listen to her old 2014 record on Bandcamp, below, and compare it to where she’s at now. Her songs are still intricately constructed and lyrically sound, but they lack the spark her new music possesses.
They sound like songs that are searching for something, not songs that help other people find themselves. The difference is palpable, the difference is intangible. So the transition from good to great music always goes, so the struggle to explain what happened? always lingers. Whatever you want to call it, newly armed with this spiritual understanding — or fundamental appreciation — for the release and euphoria of electronic music, Rogers began to incorporate those sensibilities into her folk melodies, turning out tracks that are simultaneously glitchy and pastoral.