Maggie Rogers finds balance on Heard It In A Past Life
Maggie Rogers has come a long way since receiving a seal of approval on her music from hit producer Pharrell Williams. Her career path quickly changed when a video of her and Pharrell listening to her song ‘Alaska’ went viral because of his emotional response. Rogers was given the chance to record a video for the song and the EP Now That The Light Is Fading followed in 2017. After a break, she returned last year with the singles ‘Fallingwater’, ‘Give A Little’ and ‘Lights On’ which now lead to the release of the album Heard It In A Past Life.
When Pharrell first heard Maggie’s material, he praised her for having a singular sound, saying that her music sounds like no one out there. Rogers grew up surrounded by folk music in a small town in Maryland and started her career with a banjo, until she discovered the magic of electronic music in France. She decided to combine those two worlds on the single ‘Alaska’ and the rest of the album follows suit, be it in a more polished way with bigger chorus and slicker productions (she worked with hit producer Greg Kurstin on half of the tracks). Of course Rogers is not the inventor of this genre, like Pharrell almost made it out to be, but she sure fills a gap with her own take on it, now that Ellie Goulding lost the folk in her pop and Lykke Li recently started to experiment with hiphop and trap.
The album kicks off with the swinging synth pop tune ‘Give A Little’, inspired by students protests for gun control, which sonically echoes a bit of Haim. On ‘Overnight’ she stays within the same vibe with prominent synths, which were created by sounds of frogs and glaciers according to Maggie. Although it might sound like she is telling off a love interest in the lyrics, the “I’ll still meet you in the middle of the night, But if you lie to me, I’m gone” is actually a note to herself in a time of big changes in her life. It is a recurring theme on the record, as single ‘Light On’ describes her struggles to adapt to her more public life after the video with her music went viral. The second time she sings “With everyone around me saying ‘you should be so happy now’” (in reference to her struggle to enjoy her newfound success) it hits you right in the feels. There is hope though, as she thanks her followers for sticking around, in the chorus, saying she will leave a light on.
Of course there is room for some lighter content on the record too. The groovy ‘The Knife’ describes how she dances off the tough times with her friends while the swinging, drums-heavy, yet airy ‘Burning’ is a simple love song. ‘Say It’ is a song she wrote just after graduation with college friends Tor Miller and Jack Hallenback, which she gave a stunning 90s R&B sounding arrangement with help of producer Ricky Reed. The chorus is an earworm and the high notes Maggie hits are nothing short of heavenly. She strips things down completely on the piano ballad ‘Past Life’. Although the fuller productions on the rest of the album never distract from her vocals, it is nice to hear her belt out in a more ‘intimate setting’.
Heard It In A Past Life ends with the track ‘Back In My Body’, an honest and open full circle moment. In the verses Rogers describes moments she wanted to (literally) run away from the changes in her life, while she fights to feel like she is back in her body in the chorus. The beautifully layered vocals, the banging drums and the soaring melody form the perfect finale for the album. Maggie Rogers convincingly tells the story of the past two years of her life, without romanticizing the fame or success. At the same time her sound is more refined and her melodies more anthemic. Maggie Rogers might have to prepare herself for next levels of success soon.