As the lead single from 25-year-old Maggie Rogers’ debut album, “Light On” is a woodsy-sounding, dance-in-the-sunshine celebration of feeling fragile. Her desperate, war-cry vocals sing “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.’” The lyrics put a spotlight on a girl who seeks support by explaining to those around her that the change that comes with success can lead to stressful times. The song perfectly encapsulates the main storyline found throughout Heard It In A Past Life: dancing through life’s unpredictability and finding strength in change and vulnerability.
Maggie Rogers was a college student turned star overnight as she shared one of her songs with infamous producer Pharrell Williams during a masterclass at NYU in 2016. The video of the two sharing a sincere moment where he praises her artistry while she stares at her feet went viral and soon enough, she landed a record deal. What followed was her homework assignment turned breakout hit, “Alaska,” the Pharrell-approved folk-electronica inspired song with fluttery vocals and unique sound effects. An EP soon followed in 2017 that proved Rogers’ lyricism and sound was one to look out for.
After being discovered by one of the most accredited producers in the business and establishing a fanbase after a short EP, it makes sense that her debut album Heard it in a Past Life was highly anticipated. The album opens with “Give A Little,” an upbeat song about empathy with political undertones that one wouldn’t recognize unless doing research. Rogers went to Twitter to speak about how she had written this song on the day of the national school walk out for gun control. One of the strongest tracks follows, “Overnight,” a song that, like “Light On,” highlights the changes that Rogers must have faced after getting her big break. She sings about how quickly people can truly change, in this instance an ex-partner, overnight on top of a catchy pop instrumental with layered main vocals. Both tracks, among numerous others on the album, were co-written and co-produced by Greg Kurstin, a seven-time Grammy award winner who has worked with Adele, P!nk, Kelly Clarkson, and Sia.
Other high points can be found on “The Knife,” the most fun song on the album, one that feels like letting go and encourages listeners to let their hair down and enjoy life as Rogers sings “Let it go if you won’t get loud / Make a little fuss, oh it’s all allowed / Beautiful how it all pours out / After dark, after life.” And “Past Life” is another song circling vulnerability and how change forced its way into Rogers life without her asking for it. This introspective anthem is a pure ballad, and showcases Maggie Rogers’ stripped, raw vocals with beautiful piano instrumentation.
The only other slow song on the record is “Say It”, which starts off strong with echoing vocals but soon gets overshadowed by unnecessary overproduction and vocal layering that sound reminiscent of her previous songs. “On + Off” is another song that gets lost in translation due to the overuse of sound effects that typically work on her songs; her vocals can’t shine through and it slows the pace of the album. These lackluster moments and forgettable songs make the album feel longer than just 12 tracks.
The album does end powerfully with the eleventh track, “Burning,” another uptempo song with jaunty percussion. This track was special enough to be placed on Barack Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2019” list. The last song is a perfect conclusion of her self-discovery. Titled “Back In My Body,” the conclusion of Heard it in a Past Life showcases the most confident we’ve heard Rogers as her howling, spirituous vocals sing “I found myself when I was going everywhere / This time, I know I’m fighting / This time, I know I’m back in my body.” The album as a whole is Maggie Rogers trying to navigate this crazy new world she was thrown into, and “Back In My Body” is the perfect reclamation track to conclude; she has found herself amidst the chaos of new found fame. Through powerful, yet delicate lyricism, Heard It In A Past Life most definitely gets its message across, but may be overlooked due to the the similarity between certain tracks as well as the overproduction that hinders the album vocally.