Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Maggie Rogers continues searching for a balance between her folk and pop impulses on Surrender

"Surrender"

Release date: 29 July 2022
7/10
Maggie Surrender digitlal cover
25 July 2022, 08:30 Written by Tom Williams
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The story of Maggie Rogers viral rise to fame has been retold countless times by now, but with the release of her sophomore album Surrender, it’s worth revisiting.

In 2016, Pharrell Williams visited NYU and held a masterclass with a handful of students, the last of which was then-21 year old Maggie Rogers. Initially left at a loss for words by her song “Alaska”, he went on to compare Rogers’ music to that of the Wu Tang Clan, describing it as similarly “singular” and incomparable. The appeal of that song – which has since been certified Gold in the United States – is obvious; earthy and earnest, it combines electronic elements with conventional indie-folk arrangements to create a decisive artistic statement grounded by Rogers' lilting vocal delivery and lyrics that convey wide-eyed wonderment at the world around her.

The album that accompanied “Alaska” eventually arrived in early 2019 and - with the exception of the stunning “Fallingwater” – largely did away with the minimalist tendencies of Rogers’ breakout hit. Enlisting over half a dozen producers, including producer to the stars Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia, Kelly Clarkson), Heard It in a Past Life, embraced electropop anthemicism and weathered a polarised reception as a result.

The credits list for Roger’s much-anticipated sophomore effort Surrender, is slimmed down considerably. Yet, rather than being a return to Rogers roots, it leans further into maximalist electropop than Past Life ever dared to. At their best, these songs capture all of the “feral joy” that Rogers promised. “Want Want” is life-affirming pop in the truest sense of the term. Its chorus of “If you want-want what you want-want, then you want it” is borderline nonsensical, but it’s delivered with the perfect amount of feverish intensity to pull off its portrayal of maddening desire. “Might die if you can’t live just to taste it”, Rogers cries at one moment, “I feel it in my teeth” at another. She makes the song sound practically carnivorous.

“That’s Where I Am” – accompanied with a David Byrne-featuring music video, where Rogers struts through New York wearing a green boa and sporting a new pixie-cut – is effortlessly cool, hooky as all hell and fit with an addictive drum fill that livens things up considerably. “Anywhere With You” is a similar slam-dunk. Infusing classic-rock edge with pop tendencies, it finds Rogers hitting the open road, ready to grab life with both hands. It captures the pent-up frustrations of - and eventual release from – pandemic living, all the way down to the lingering anxiety that is given voice in the song’s second-half (“Would you tell me if I ever started holding you back?”)

Rogers maximalist tendencies don’t always serve her as well, however. Songs like “Shatter” and “Be Cool” are similarly blown out as “Want Want”, but lack the same indelibility. The end result is that the quiet power that Rogers so effortlessly exhibited on “Alaska” – as well as on the early-2010s recordings that were released on her 2020 compilation album Notes From The Archive – is lost. Her idiosyncrasies become ironed out and her captivating words become subsumed due to muddy mixing. The proof by counter-example of this comes towards the end of “Shatter”, when Rogers voice finally bursts through to the forefront as she declares, “I’d do anything just to be with you”. It’s a powerful and all-too-fleeting moment that showcases the power of Rogers music when her lyricism takes centre stage.

Rogers injects some needed variety into Surrender by occasionally gesturing towards the folk-pop of her early music. “Horses” recalls Brandi Carlile, and though it can occasionally border on the cliched – telling of wild horses running, and being in too deep to touch the ground – it is saved by a first verse that boasts the album’s most evocative couplet: “Sucking nicotine down my throat / Thinking of you giving head”. The central refrain of “I’ve Got A Friend” – “I got a friend / And she’s got a friend too” – sounds a lot like a rehash of Carole King’s similarly titled hit, but Rogers hits her stride in the verses where she offers brief but compelling character studies of the most important people in her life - a friend who talked her out of jail, one who insisted on listening to Dolly Parton come rain or shine, and another who's still left unpacking the grief of her mother’s death.

Album closer “Different Kind of World” is Surrender’s most direct attempt at fusing Rogers diverging musical impulses. At one moment, it is led by little more than gentle acoustic strumming and Rogers at the mic singing of her anxiety about the state of the world. The next, thrashing drums and an epic guitar solo burst into the mix. While further proving that Rogers has yet to find a wholly satisfying balance between understated folk and maximalist electropop, it also shows her to be a multifaceted performer with a dynamism lacking amongst many of her peers.

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