Arts, Music, Review

Maggie Rogers Balances Folk and Electronic in Debut Album

Move over Taylor Swift—pop music has a new princess in 2019. After Swift’s 13-year radio reign, Maggie Rogers has risen from the ashes of radio rubble to give popular music a complete makeover. On Heard It in a Past Life, Rogers shouts out to the distraught souls of the Instagram generation, a group quick to hide the ugly reality behind “candid” content.

Behind the upbeat music of Rogers’ debut album lies a fleeting cynicism, a dual-emotionality that leaves listeners constantly confronting the choice to dance to the beat or cry to the raw truth behind the lyrics.

Pulling from singles that first debuted as far back as February 2017—“Alaska” and “On + Off,” both originate on the 2017 EP Now That the Light is Fading—Rogers constructs an album with full emotional range and a distinct, intoxicating sound. The album kicks off its soul search with “Give A Little,” a 2018 single that instills its infectious optimism with an airy beat and catchy chorus. Repeating “Give a little, get a little” between verses, Rogers looks forward to the prospect of rekindling a once flickering flame.

Rogers continues treading through Swift’s territory—writing about past relationships—with a similar naivete that is equally frustrating and familiar on the track “Overnight.” The 24-year-old singer sways between vulnerability and conviction with the lyrics “Take a big sip of my whiskey and then leave quickly / And pray you missed me” and “But if you lie to me / I’m gone” over the sliding beat. The album reaches a party playlist height on the jangling metallic beat of the following track, “The Knife,” a song in which Rogers sings of being wounded by the “knife of insight.” Romantic reverbs reminiscent of those found on Lorde’s 2017 Melodrama course through the track with remarkable weightlessness to create a surefire magnetic dance track.

Aside from Rogers’ eloquent lyricism, the pop powerhouse’s incredible vocal range shines on the album. Shifting effortlessly from vulnerable voice breaks to resolute rising notes on “Light On,” Rogers mimics the adaptable nature of a light switch. In contrast, Rogers steadies her tone on “Past Life,” the album’s “Landslide” moment during which Rogers reflects on her rapidly changing life with the same folkish defenselessness Stevie Nicks displays on the legendary Fleetwood Mac track.

Rogers fearlessly boards a rapidly turning relationship roller coaster on “On + Off.” Resigning herself to the stomach-churning cycles of deep dependency, Rogers thrusts her listeners in to the push-and-pull momentum of the song with a repetitive piano-driven beat and skillful electronic mixing. The track embodies the unique sound that distinguished the American artist from her contemporaries in the first place—it melds the organic warmth of folk music with the cool removal of techno music. As a result, Rogers unchains herself from genre conventions and carves out a style of her own, all while mashing her many influences together to produce a palatable poppy-sound.

Riding this high, Rogers cleanses herself with “Fallingwater,” a track that utilizes a drum kit and synth beat to mimic the drip sound of rain on the pavement. Rogers recalls rough waters during the chorus that admits “I fought the current running just the way you would” before finding herself immersed in a backing chorus of voices on the track’s building outro.

In Heard It in a Past Life’s final track “Back In My Body,” Rogers reclaims her emotional autonomy with the lyrics “This time I know I’m fighting / This time I know I’m back in my body.” Wrestling with a building beat composed of live drumming and synthetic bass, Rogers’ vocals finally give way to a resilient guitar solo that echoes the fighting spirit of the track.

Despite its nostalgic name, Heard It in a Past Life laments a sound that can hardly be traced back to a past life. Rogers pulls from genres of the past and present to construct a distinct sound that both preserves the natural imperfection of artistic endeavours long completed and polishes itself with pristine electronic touches. Lending itself to both acoustic covers and electronic remixes, Heard It in a Past Life strikes a careful balance between innocuous innovation and requisite replayability. Although new on the scene, Rogers displays an archival knowledge of music throughout her debut album, a promising collection of songs that looks to an exhilarating future for pop music.

Featured Image by Capitol Records

January 21, 2019