Maggie Rogers Stuns With Debut Album


Maggie Roger’s just released her first studio album “Heard It In A Past Life.” (Courtesy of Facebook)

Pharrell William’s reaction to Maggie Rogers upon hearing her first single, “Alaska,” speaks volumes about the emerging artist. Williams, the producer of masterpieces such as Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” sat wide-eyed in a masterclass at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music while Rogers, enrolled as a student, sampled what was, at the time, nothing more than her homework assignment.

“I have zero, zero, zero notes for that,” he remarked following the song’s conclusion. The video, posted on YouTube, went viral and catapulted Rogers into the spotlight virtually overnight. She released an EP “Now That the Light is Fading” in 2017 before dropping her first studio album “Heard It In A Past Life” this January.

The most salient aspect of the album, and what struck Pharrell’s notice, is the ease with which Rogers layers her heavenly folk vocals over electronic dance beats. The listener can choose to float along with Rogers’ voice, getting lost in the gentle falsetto, or instead tune into the background, bopping and jiving to the snappy rhythms. It is only when the songs are appreciated in their entirety, however, that the pure brilliance of the album takes shape.

Rogers has managed to maintain the integrity of each disparate musical genre while simultaneously creating something other: a new sound that benefits from its disparities, bordering just enough on dissonance to be beautiful. The echo-soaked drums maintain their perfectly tight cadence while Rogers’ voice gently and freely weaves through the negative space. It is a combination of sounds that vibrate through the audience, captivating an array of emotions.

Listening to “Heard It In A Past Life,” I envision someone break dancing and doing ballet at the same time, crying over a break up and simultaneously finding new love; endings and beginnings wrapped perfectly in each soundbite. While it is Rogers’ unique sound that prompted her initial discovery and subsequent launch into the limelight, it is the story she is able to convey in her album that will likely keep her there. “Heard It In A Past Life” plays like a novel, accounting the struggles of almost instantaneous fame with a tone that is neither self-pitying nor depressing.

“Give a Little,” the first song on the album, begins the story. Here, Rogers remarks on the excitement and optimism that accompanies the start of a new relationship, stating, “You don’t know me I don’t know you Everything’s fresh, yeah Everything’s new.”

The lyrics are cleverly constructed to relate to a universal audience that has likely experienced the exhilaration of a beginning, while simultaneously reflecting the unique developments in Rogers’ life.

Listening to “Give A Little,” I can picture the young artist sitting in her masterclass next to Pharrell, overcome with humble shock at his reaction, an aura of timid buoyancy evident in her wide-eyed disposition.

However this optimism quickly translates to uncertainty. “Overnight” and “The Knife” convey yearning for a past life with lines like “Don’t say you miss me. I know it’s still me” and “I’ve got this feeling it’s all about to blow.”
These emotions build before exploding in the vibrant climax that is “Light On,” my favorite song on the album. Here, Rogers does some of her best work.

Lines like “Oh, I couldn’t stop it Tried to slow it all down” are accompanied by a quickening of beats that later shatters into Rogers’ passionate belt, “You should be so happy now.”

It is a beautiful tantrum that not only conveys the stress and frenzy of rapid fame but makes the listener feel as though they are experiencing it too.

The narrative finds resolution in “Back In My Body,” the last song on “Heard It In A Past Life.” As evident from the title, the song recounts Rogers’ acceptance of her loss of anonymity and discovery of herself in the whirlwind experience. While Rogers successfully and poignantly communicates her story, the account suffers slightly from the placement of “Alaska” and “Past Life.”

“Alaska,” the song that prompted Rogers’ fame, would have better served as the album’s opening while “Past Life,” a soft ballad, seems out of place, showcasing Rogers’ vocal capabilities but lacking the upbeat energy of the other songs. However, these criticisms are small, and don’t take away from the broader successes of “Heard It In A Past Life.

For her first album, Maggie Rogers has accomplished a fantastic feat. Unlike some of her peers who received early recognition for their work, she did not shy away from the expectations placed on her, producing a metacognitive album that not only meets these expectations but uses them as inspiration.

Rogers is neither overly upbeat nor falsely despondent, but instead beautifully honest, dancing through her struggles and producing work that encourages her listeners to do the same. As she heads out on an international tour that includes high-seeded musical festivals such as Coachella, there is nothing to do but watch the artist shine and wait to see what she creates next.