Rating: 4.5 stars
Maggie Rogers’ debut record “Heard It In A Past Life” released Friday, Jan. 18. This dance album with folky vibes is a fun, distinctive pop record revealing Rogers’s passing from one world of normalcy to an unexpected rush of fame.
“Alaska,” the viral hit, was born from a time of personal reclamation. Rogers found herself on a hiking trip in Alaska her first year of college, shaking off insecurities about her background in indie-folk artistry. This piece, starting as a beat patted on her Levi 501 jeans, was her declaration of self in the ever-changing world of college and emerging adulthood. Layer on layer of harmonies, and samples of morning doves and congo drum circles give place to the piece, creating the same magical, dream-like experience Rogers had hiking in Alaska. This is expressed in a line from the song, “Oh me oh my I thought It was a dream / so it seemed.” Ironically, this would be the song to throw her life into another tumultuous era of confusion and self-discovery.
In March of 2016, her last semester at New York University studying music engineering and production, Rogers’s life would change forever when Grammy winner Pharrell Williams hosted a masterclass. Seen in the viral video that circulated online, Williams was amazed by Rogers’s distinctive style in her song “Alaska.” This is where we kick off the creation of this record.
Rogers wrote this album as a roadmap to her life from graduating college to now, chronicling how she navigated the push by her viral video into fame. She had to reorient her private, introverted life and adjust to a new normal in the midst of intense pressure from the public reaction to Pharrell’s praise. This was a choice she had to make early on: ride this wave or keep her comfortable life.
What intrigues me about Maggie Rogers is her control over her project from the lyrics, to the production and the accompanying visuals. Rogers has synesthesia, a rare neurological gift of experiencing colorful visuals when music is heard. This anchors Rogers; each piece is unequivocal with its own personality and color palette. The lyrics tell her story and the vivid production gives listeners the agency to take on her sentiment. The care mixed into each piece is an invitation to feel for yourself the intensity of Rogers’ jubilation, sadness, confusion and sacred being as she stumbled through this segment of her life.
Rogers’ confident falsettos flutter over her own unique mixes seemingly baptized in celebration. Each song protected by a spiritual team of harmonies, balancing her heavy dance beats with soft glowing beauty. Her ghostly layers of breathless harmonies are both haunting and comforting. Samples she recorded on a walk in nature or on the front porch of her family home in Maryland humanizes each piece and give it a sense of place.
Rogers opens the album with “Give A Little,” written as a response to the Parkland, Florida shooting. It’s a reintroduction to herself and it secures her reason for creating music: to bring people together.
The hard-driven bass of “The Knife” sinks into you like the reality check she describes in the verse. We’re guided into the chorus by Rogers’ friendly ghost-harmony. It’s an invitation to dance it out, whatever it is, good or bad: “After dark, after light.”
“Burning” is a celebration of finding your people, the people who love you, challenge you and make you better. It’s a dance bop.
Rogers closes her record with “Back In My Body.” With the same sentiment as “Alaska”, she has found herself again after touring for a year, falling in love and mindfully wandering through her new world.
If you like Stevie Nicks’ witchy vibes with the jubilation of a The Lighthouse and The Whaler record, you’ll like Maggie Rogers. She’s like Lana Del Rey without the cigarettes. “Heard It In A Past Life” solidifies that Rogers is, as she describes, a witchy feminist rockstar.
Maggie Rogers’ journey is authentic and beautiful. Listening to her music feels like a late-night conversation with an old friend. The spirit guides who guard her music with their lush, gorgeous harmonies feel like they are somehow here protecting us too. “Heard It In A Past Life” is a safe place to be, to dance, to cry and celebrate. It’s a gift.