Maggie Rogers has had a rise to fame that feels ripped straight out of A Star Is Born. After a chance encounter with established artist/producer Pharrell Williams in 2016 that resulted in a viral video, she was thrown into indie pop stardom with her single, “Alaska.” The year after graduating from New York University, she released her debut EP, Now That The Light Is Fading. Now, two years later, she’s back with her debut full–length album, Heard It in a Past Life. The album leans more toward mass appeal, giving the world 12 songs that range from whip–your–hair to hold–your–lighter–up. Despite a grand entrance into the world stage, Rogers has managed to release a comprehensive full–length, that, while disjointed at times, shows sincerity, passion, and ingenuity in her still–fresh style.
Heard It in a Past Life had a slow build–up, with a steady trickle of singles released over the past year, beginning with “Fallingwater,” a piano ballad that shows off Rogers’ voice. It's a showstopping hit in an era of cheap sampling, masterfully composed with a mid–song tempo change. “Fallingwater” was followed by “Give A Little,” a classic feel–good bop that adds layers of percussion, gang vocals, and a guitar solo to drag the listener in. “Light On” was the last single released prior to the full album, a torch–burning “it’s complicated” relationship song. The most heart–wrenching moment is the way Rogers sings the line, “Everything kept moving/And the noise got too loud/ With everyone around me saying/‘You should be so happy now’” in a tone that feels all too genuine.
The album compiles singles steadily released over the past year, shedding all of the songs from Now That The Light Is Fading, save for “Alaska” and “On + Off,” which fit neatly into the new album. The singles “Give A Little,” “Fallingwater,” and “Light On” are by no means where the dance hits end, with new songs “The Knife” and “Retrograde” bringing the heat that is necessary for concert–goers. The slow jam “Say It” has become a standard for her live shows, but in studio becomes an electric blend of falsetto and shiny synths, giving off neon vibes and deep–hitting lyrics.
If it were not apparent from the song titles, the album throws hints at nature and astrology as inspirations for Rogers’ songwriting. Though the lyrics make few direct connections, the naturalistic echoes are heard in the idiosyncratic nature of her instruments, as she tosses bird calls, chirping keys, and psychedelic guitars together into a blend that keeps the listener on their toes, no matter how many times she dips back into that well. You can tell from her discography that Rogers is the type to create, then curate, rather than the other way around. Despite having several singles to pick from Now That The Light Is Fading, she left many out that did not fit into Heard It in a Past Life. The fantastic “Split Stones” made no appearance despite being released this past year.
The magic of Rogers’ music is found in her use of catharsis as a tool for relatability and appeal. The album dances around the themes of closure, rebirth, and self–discovery, and brings the listener along for Rogers’ personal journey. The whole album feels post–incident; Rogers singing on “Retrograde,” “You bring me in to help me/Let me get me out/I'm in retrograde” is a kind of thesis statement for the album, existing in the moment of recollection and damage assessment, like the breath of fresh air after an argument.
Rogers shows serious talent for giving each song its own life, whether it's to get the audience moving or hanging onto every word. At times, she relies too strongly on her voice to carry a song with little else to hold onto (“Past Life,” “Fallingwater”) but generally finds a way to fill a song with sounds that cannot be found from any other musician, and couples it with a clear and precise craft for songwriting. Heard It in a Past Life is the perfect encapsulation of her musical range in a field she’s so perfectly suited for.