Maggie Rogers is, frankly, one of my favorite finds of 2014. From her single “James,” the first time I heard it on bandcamp, I was taken by her style and tone. She is, in a word, stunning. I was extremely excited to get an early copy of her album – which did not disappoint. Blood Ballet, an intriguing title, is the product of a lot of hard work and some pretty stunning songwriting.
I customarily write about songs in the order they are presented on the album, but I’m not doing that this time. The reason is because I love the track “Anybody” so much I can’t wait to mention it first. This is an amazing song. There’s banjo, Maggie’s great vocals, and a nice message about seeking a potential special someone. What I like most, though, is the chromatic structure of the song. It sort of climbs in the most beautiful, comfortable way imaginable. It’s going on my “song of the year” short list for sure.
Okay, so now back to the beginning. The album’s opener “Resonant Body” has a bigger sound than “Anybody” but it’s done in the right way. There’s some sort of reverb on the track that makes it feel like you’re standing in the middle of a gymnasium or auditorium hearing a private concert from Rogers (which would be cool). The strings and vocals really work well together on the song. It’s the kind of track that makes you feel something. I’m not sure if “warm fuzzies” is the kind of compliment a serious artist wants to hear, but that’s what I feel.
The second track “James” is already a popular single from the album. It was a good choice as the single as it is perhaps the most popular (especially right now) kind of sound. It’s the sound that I fell in love with and why I contacted Maggie initially. There’s a palpable humanity encapsulated in the way she wrote this song. It’s clearly written about a real person with real, deep emotions. The verse about artistry “paint her a picture, like you did me…” is just gorgeous songwriting. It makes a beautiful, complicated relationship come to life in a way that most people can relate to. The “ooh” parts that serve as a sort of bridge, especially the harmonies, depict for me a raw emotional response to the reality of the relationship. “No don’t be a stranger… no don’t go too far… I know you love places that have lots of stars… just know in the city you’ll always have a place to stay.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say she’s not over him… and wow does it make a gorgeous song.
The title track “Blood Ballet” is a really raw track. I don’t mean that in terms of recording, but in terms of its content. “There are darker things than the absence of light…” It’s a really deep and soulful song. Sometimes listening to a song feels a bit like reading someone’s diary. This song is that kind of intimate. I am not sure I completely get the story behind the song, but the rawness of it makes it noteworthy and befitting of the album.
Similar to “Anybody” the track “On the Page” is wonderful for the banjo and Maggie’s vocals. She does a great job of sounding timeless yet fresh. It might be a crass comparison, but fans of Norah Jones will really like Rogers and this track in particular. A bit more rough (in the authentic, real kind of way) and a little less mass-market sounding, Rogers brings a genuineness that we crave around here.
From the first piano chord on “Symmetry” I thought “YES! A piano track from Maggie Rogers.” By the end of the song, I was certain I could get used to this. Her versatility is impressive. Her “timeless” vocal quality works extremely well with the piano sound. The song itself is about coping with a bygone relationship. Feeling like another deeply personal, intimate confessional of sorts, it’s probably the best solo vocals on the entire album (which is an enormous compliment). It’s one of my favorite tracks on an album that just gets it right.
All told, Blood Ballet is a powerful and engaging album. I doubt many people will listen to this music in the “background” of life. It begs for listeners to confront deep, personal emotions. Some of the tracks are a bit more “pop” sounding than others, but overall it’s just a great album. It could be called a number of genres, but I think it fits “Americana” almost perfectly. The blend of genres, especially with American roots (jazz, country) work really well to showcase the real delight of the album – Maggie’s vocals. This is an album that I highly recommend to fans of Norah Jones and any of the late 90s girl power pop artists (Natalie Imbruglia and Alanis Morrisette). Maggie Rogers is the real deal. She’s not just “anybody…”