The cosmic joy and agony of Maggie Rogers’ ‘Heard It In A Past Life’
Carlos De Loera | Friday, February 1, 2019
Making an album is hard. Making your first album is harder. Making your first album when there has been two-and-a-half years of anticipation is even harder. It’s a lot of pressure. This is where folk-dance artist and Maryland native Maggie Rogers found herself at the start of 2019.
In the summer of 2016 a video surfaced on YouTube of Rogers, then a student at New York University, presenting her song “Alaska” to guest lecturer Pharrell Williams. Williams was so amazed by the song that he offered no ways in which Rogers could improve it — “You’re doing your own thing. It’s singular.” The glory of “Alaska” is that even upon first listen it feels nostalgic, the type of song you could dance to one day and cry to the next. That video has been viewed millions of times and is one of the main engines behind the Maggie Rogers hype train. Since that moment in 2016, fans of the singer have been waiting for a full-length studio album. Along the way, Rogers released an EP in 2017 and a series of singles in 2018 in promotion of her debut album “Heard It In A Past Life.”
Prior to the album’s release, fans were interested to see which of her previous tracks would make it to the album, and how these songs would fit in when they were written years prior. Much to the credit of Rogers and her producer, pop music guru Greg Kurstin, no song feels out of place sonically or thematically. This is an album about self discovery, friendship, freedom, the fears and anxiety that come with these things and how we could all dance our way through these processes.
One of the more striking streaks of songs on the album is the “Alaska,” “Light On,” “Past Life” combo. “Alaska,” a song about self-exploration that mirrors a trek through the glorious glacial plains of the Alaskan wilderness, finds the singer in a place of bliss and in control of her life. There is then a major turn in “Light On.” Now, the light, or perhaps more aptly, the spotlight, has become too bright. The glaciers melted and now she is “caught up in wave.” On the surface it looked like she was out for a swim, but really she was drowning in the loneliness and pit of fame. “Crying in the bathroom / Had to figure it out / With everyone around me saying / ‘You must be so happy now.’”
The only way that Rogers is able to make it out of this is through those closest to her. With her closest friends, she remains able to find the joy to still be “dancing at the end of the day.” In the heavily Fleetwood Mac-inspired track “Past Life,” Rogers continues to chronicle her anxieties and fears as she sings, “Oh, I could feel the shadow comin’ / Straight on down the line / Masquerading like it was a friend of mine.” As the only song with just a piano as her backing music, the composition of the track reflects Rogers’ depth and raw emotion.
Another notable track is the astrology jam “Retrograde.” The name of the song is an ode to Rogers’ own apparent fascination with astrology and the other mystical forces that dominate the universe. An entrance into retrograde aligns with a change in energies and emotions, some of which may be uncharacteristic of a person. This song finds the singer in the unusual position of an emotional breakdown. She wants to fight it, because it’s foreign to her, but she ultimately submits to it, giving into the “retrograde.” This is also one of the only songs on the album that prominently features a guitar part. Perhaps this, too, was retrograde kicking in.
The entirety of the album is a spectacular display of the art of patience. Despite what must have been constant pressure from both fans and her music label, Rogers stayed firm and took her time. In an era where artists are always looking to put out an almost-nonstop stream of content in fear of irrelevance, Rogers stood by the strength of her songs and trusted her process. Much like the glaciers of her admiration, Rogers proves that there is much more to her and her musicianship than we all could have hoped.
- Artist: Maggie Rogers
- Album: “Heard It In A Past Life”
- Label: Capitol Records
- Favorite Tracks: “Light On,” “Past Life,” “Retrograde”
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- Shamrocks: 4 out of 5