Maggie Rogers makes music you listen to in the wilderness.
Maggie Rogers makes music you listen to in the wilderness. With confident percussion at its base and Rogers’ personable timbre, Heard It in a Past Life is something one might listen to while camping under the stars or while alone on a country road. Rogers’ spread arms on the album artwork resemble mountaintops on a night sky, as if she herself stands at the foot a vast journey. Many react to the unknown with apprehension or full-on petrification, but the artist is fully in control on Heard It in a Past Life. She takes you on an adventure, and while it’s one oft-traveled (see: heard) before, a maestro like Rogers takes the listener for a smooth ride.
Heard It in a Past Life resembles the electro-soul sound that arose out of Soundcloud in the 2010s with artists such as Niia or Ryn Weaver. Pop titans Greg Kurstin, Ricky Reed and Rostam Batmanglij boast credits on the album, but Rogers’ executive production credit speaks to the record’s cohesive sound. She centers each song around her friendly alto, which sings details of her life with a frank simplicity.
As a songwriter, Rogers deserves acclaim for her descriptive lyricisms: “The knife of insight tore its way in me” is metal as hell and an inventive way to start a pop song. Not one for coyness, Rogers promises to “tell you all about” it. She approaches songwriting less with the mysterious, subtweet context that many artists adopt, the payoff being an album as lyrically accessible as it is musically. Even as she transitions from student to star on “Light On” or “Overnight,” Rogers speaks as freely and warmly as you would to a close friend: “But you waited/ So I got wasted”.
But the album’s familiarity also hinders it from embracing sonic risks that would set it apart. You start to hope for risks in the songwriting and production. “Say It” begins just like Kelela’s “Jupiter,” offering an example of the gambles not taken. In terms of tracks, the album sports your piano ballads (“Past Life”) and your gospel-assisted big finish (“Back in My Body”), both of which are fine songs but fail to bring the album to any exciting new heights.
Thankfully, once you past the annoying “Retrograde,” you hit “Burning,” a four-on-the-floor highlight, and the aforementioned “Back in My Body.” The latter is a bit cliche, but the phrase “back in my body” is alliteration at its finest, a visual metaphor with implications easy to grasp. The effortless feel of Rogers’ debut no doubt comes from the way it follows modern pop guidelines, but it also stems from Rogers’ own innate talent, one you hope she decides to start taking chances with in the future.
“I’m coming up slowly” is a promise she’s very capable of keeping.