How does one follow up nearly making Pharrell Williams cry? That’s the expectation Maggie Rogers set for herself last year, when footage of her playing a demo of her track “Alaska” for Skateboard P and bringing him close to tears went viral and brought her to the attention of many. Since then, she’s gone from student to indie-pop darling, with tours set for this year and the final cut of “Alaska” being featured on the 61st edition of “Now That’s What I Call Music.” Her first release since catching the public light, Now That The Light Is Fading, comes forth at the end of the buzz.
It’s important to note that this is not Rogers’ first release. She put out her debut in 2012 and a follow-up in 2014, both LPs of soft folk tracks. Light Is Fading marks a huge departure from both of these works, pushing Rogers into EDM and pop-influenced territory. She’s not the first artist to do this- Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso fame made similar transitions just a few years ago, and Roger’s first release cuts further down the path that they cut before.
But where Sylvan Esso made electronic music that was essentially folk at heart, with minimalist, lo-fi instrumentals and arrangements, Rogers instead creates pop and and electronic with folk leanings. Her debut demonstrates a capability to temper pop grandeur with grounding in realistic perspective, and shows that her ability as an arranger (beautifully displayed in her original folk work) also extends to electronic composition.
The EP runs for five tracks and 17 minutes, opening with “Color Song,” a track that wouldn’t seem out of place on Rogers’ old work. An acapella piece built from layers of Roger’s own voice and set to the chirping of crickets, the track is a verbal painting- Rogers layering descriptions of color one on another to describe the dying of the day. The track serves as both an acknowledgement of her old work, and a farewell. It leaves old listeners to Rogers’ work with a familiar point to begin with, and helps them to ease into the next cut, the final mix of the now-famous “Alaska.”
“Alaska” is just as beautiful as you remember, having been released previously as a single. But what’s interesting is seeing how well it fits into the structure of Light Is Fading as a whole. Rogers does not cut straight into the pop ballads she has now mastered, instead easing into them. “Alaska” serves as a bridge between the organics of “Color Song” and midpoint “On + Off,” incorporating both synths and more natural layering and percussion. “On + Off” is most definitively an indie-dance cut, emphasizing its pop hook and subject matter. It’s strange that this somehow manages to be both the catchiest and most bland moment of the album, but that’s just the way things arrange themselves here- the refrain of “on and off again, on and off again” is the most danceable and meaningless moment of EP. In this lies the track’s strange magic.
Follower track “Dog Years” is more an experiment in layering than its predecessor, with strange and organic accents (falling trees, spoons clinking, woodpeckers, birds) mixed in as part of the melody and percussion tracks. It’s true that this track is more style-over-substance, but it’s stylized beautifully. While it might function as an instrumental, the track’s layering is more than enough to lose yourself in, and is a strong point to Maggie’s case as a producer.
The EP wraps up with “Better,” a cut that blends synth lines straight out of Donkey Kong Country with bird calls, a similar mix to “Dog Years.” But there’s a narrative here- beginning with loneliness and ending with memories, Rogers sings softly of good times in the past and how those could be resurrected, even now. Its simple, monotone refrain of “better, better, better, etc.” carries more meaning with less wording than some of the other hooks on the EP, simply because of its context.
In the end, this EP is more of a stylistic exercise than a statement of purpose. It’s the sound of a developing artist coming to understand a new side of their artistic ability, and while this may rob it of the depth it needs to be truly arresting, it’s still a sonically gorgeous piece of work. And the truth is, this is Rogers’ first full release since pushing in the direction of pop and dance music, and she’s already displaying full mastery of the sound. This piece is a thrilling one- a work that demonstrates tremendous artistic growth while still displaying room to grow. The work brings to mind a shallow lake on a calm day- yes, it’s not deep, but it is beautiful and clear as glass- and there’s plenty of space to be filled yet.