Thursday, December 24, 2020

Review: Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 • Maggie Rogers


It may seem reasonable to believe an artist’s career begins when they first crest into cultural relevance. For Maggie Rogers, that milestone came in 2016 when her composition class project was magnified into her mainstream launchpad. “Alaska” was the moment around which the story of her career has been rewritten, but the narrative ignores an important prelude of independent records and jam sessions from the past decade. Rather than charge forward off the back of her major label debut, Heard it in a Past Life, Rogers invites listeners to revere the work that lead to it with Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016.

Selections from Rogers’ indie records are pieced together in their original forms to create Notes, a reverse chronological autobiography that walks listeners backward from the artist we know to the one who made her folk music in New York City dorm basements. We as listeners can use the collection to deconstruct her current artistry down to the studs, as the record opens with hazy surf-rock – “Celadon and Gold” and “Steady Now” are the perfect light head-thrashers – and slowly throttles down to aimless acoustic folk. "Satellite," for example, sprawls out over seven minutes of piano and strings – a lonely musical landscape that cools the embers of the collection's warmer tendencies.

In the selections on Notes from the Archive, it's possible to pick out pieces of Rogers' songwriting that would carry forward into her major label roll-out. Capturing a half-decade of muses, the songs here are far more dynamic than the homogenized vision on her 2019 debut record – and even as songs that were written as a student and almost lost to time, most of them hold up well. While that allows more finalized peaks ("One More Afternoon," "Celadon and Gold," and especially "James," a memorable musical letter to a lost lover) to overshadow the near-demo ambiance of song sketches like "On the Page" and "Symmetry," the collection is an enjoyable survey of the path taken to this point.

Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 is available now under Debay Sounds.

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Maira Gall