Maggie Rogers’ “Heard It in a Past Life”

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At this point, you’ve probably never heard the name Maggie Rogers. She only recently began her career as a songwriter, releasing her first official EP in 2017. Her first studio album “Heard It in a Past Life” was released mid-January of 2019. However, if you are unfamiliar with her work now, you won’t be in the dark for long. Rogers is an immensely talented singer/songwriter with a special ear for tasteful and experimental production. “Heard It in a Past Life” is a wonderful blend of her folk roots with alternative aspirations. Combined with her incredibly versatile vocals, unique sound design, and serviceable ability on the guitar, this is not an album to miss.

One of Roger’s greatest assets in writing is her comfort level with a variety of themes. The album opens with an open and honest reflection on empathy titled “Give a Little.” Shortly before releasing this track as her third single, she posted a short note on social media saying, “This is a song about empathy. In the midst of all this fear and hate, what if we got the chance to re-introduce ourselves? What if somebody listened?” She aptly sings, “If you would open up your heart; Drop your weapons, drop your guard; Just a little trust is all it takes.”

In our politically polarized world where judgments and opinions are formulated in the blink of an eye, she argues everyone can do themselves a favor by meeting people where they are, and looking at them as a person instead of a political position.  

Never fear, however, Rogers does not relegate her writing to only emotional and somber reflections. Tracks such as “The Knife” discuss the simple joys and healing provided by a night out dancing with friends, while “Back in my Body” is a shout of triumph as her new found popularity allows her to write songs the way she wants to, not desperately trying to find recognition outside of her comfort zone. As she explained in the “Back in my Body” documentary, “Being back in my body means being able to do the things I love, but do them in the way I love, and in my way, and in my time, giving myself the opportunity to just be me.”

When looking for notable highlights on the album, one need not look further than Roger’s first single and undisputed claim to fame, “Alaska.” While attending a master class with singer/songwriter and rapper Pharrell Williams, her debut track brought the veteran of the music industry to tears. In a video that quickly went viral, Williams said “I have zero notes for that… you are doing your own thing; it’s singular. No one can really judge it.”

“Alaska” was inspired by a hike through the northern state. The soundscapes she chose created an atmospheric setting, and the driving synth sample of the track brings to mind the very glacial plains and icy streams she praises in the opening verse. Most importantly, her stunning “airy” harmonies are reminiscent of the chilled and thin air that characterizes the state.

My personal favorite song on the record, “Say It,” is the simple story of a crush. In retrospect, this is possibly the most lyrically simple song on the entire album. Rogers wastes no time with overly complicated metaphors or images, instead opting for simple lines such as, “I knew it when you looked my way; That I'd be begging you to stay; I couldn't say it to myself; I couldn’t say it to myself.”

There’s nothing she left out by taking a more direct approach to telling this story; sometimes the simple message is more than enough. However, where the emotion of the story really came through is in the vocal performance. Rogers brilliantly sang the refrain lightly, but overlaid the melody with a chorus of light harmonies that created significantly more power for the delivery. The resulting product offered a rare sense of vulnerability and sincerity, not to mention the fact that it simply sounds incredible. In my opinion, “Say It” stands as arguably her strongest work to date.

Rarely does an album catch me off guard quite like “Heard It in a Past Life.” Maggie Rogers may be young, but she writes like an artist who has already endured the growing pains of trial and error in song design. Her final product is well worth the listen, and hopefully a sign of great things to come. I love this album, and considering its position as the number 1 album on the Billboards’ chart, I don’t think I’m alone.