Maggie Rogers made Pharrell cry. That was many’s first introduction to the Maryland native when a video went viral of her song “Alaska” was played during New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. It’s completely understandable as to why. Rogers looped some field recordings she made of nature sounds and created an irresistible, rubbery beat with the melody alternating between Rogers falsetto and the low-end register of her voice. It feels from somewhere and nowhere all at once. That’s also the best way to describe Rogers’s major-label debut studio album, Heard It in a Past Life.
Culled in part from 2017’s Now That the Light Is Fading EP and some new tracks, the album is a knockout showcase of Maggie Rogers’s penchant for creating devastatingly catchy hooks that sound naturalistic and futuristic. They’re songs that are grounded here in the real world but feel just as weightless, carrying over like a mist on a fall morning. Take the album opener, “Give a Little” - a thumping beat with what sounds like a distorted animal noise revolving in the background. The force of Rogers vocal alone blasts the song into its slippery chorus. On “The Knife”, she settles into a narcotic groove - easy, but slightly in the shadows. It feels like a deep cut of late 90’s R&B.
Outside of “Alaska”, the moment of pure pop catharsis comes with the soaring “Light On”. It’s a song about her sudden rise to fame, which any sort of complaint elicits eye rolls, but you can’t help but personalize that singularly sad moment when she sings “Oh, I couldn’t stop it/tried to slow it all down/crying in the bathroom/had to figure it out/with everyone around me saying/“You must be so happy now”. That doesn’t last long, as she resolves “…I’ll leave the light on (light on)/and I’m finding out/there’s just no other way/that I’m still dancing at the end of the day”. It’s a stunning moment of self-awareness that many don’t get to make on their first record, much less make into a song that’s so eminently listenable.
“Fallingwater” has synth-heavy soundscape hints at something larger for Maggie Rogers. It feels a little more widescreen than some of the tracks on this album. It pulsates a little harder, there’s a chorus that backs her up. She sounds like a bandleader. It reaches a little higher. It will make you wonder what path she takes from here.
Heard It In a Past Life is an album that has a unique place in the world: it’s from an artist who experienced major success even before she had an album out to the public. Some of these songs Maggie Rogers wrote many years old, and some were written from a time after the artist became a star. How often do those exist on the same record? Hardly ever. It’s part-time capsule and a glimpse into the future. Let it transport you.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.