Change- and its ability to make the stomach turn, to make a person long for love and yet still walk out, to put on a Stevie Nicks song and search for answers- is at the heart of Maggie Rogers’ major label debut, Heard It In a Past Life.
Transition seems to be the natural state for most early twenty-somethings yet for Rogers, life has accelerated even more rapidly. After a clip of Rogers in an NYU masterclass went viral in 2016, she has gone from student artist to breakthrough artist in the same amount of time that the rest of us have wrapped up our minors and maybe squeezed in Beer and Wine Appreciation.
Rogers’ whimsical breathy voice brings beauty to each of the twelve tracks. While at times the production distracts listeners from the natural wonder in her vocals and the sneakily accessible poetry in her lyrics, the tracks are a united front managing the messiness of change, hedging emotional bets with minimal risk. Of course, nobody escapes their twenties without a little heartache, not even Rogers.
Over a punchy rhythm on “Overnight,” Rogers finds a balance between keeping her guard up and longing for the past. The simplicity of her lyrics make her experiences as vivid as our own memories: “And I wonder if I still lived in the city, would I see you at a party? / Take a big sip of my whiskey and then leave quickly / and pray you missed me.”
Through “Light On,” Rogers reconciles her own feelings of loneliness with other people’s expectations that she should be happy. The gentleness of her vocals and the song’s relatively subdued production creates a stronger sense of vulnerability than perhaps is the case. Reluctant to take the first risk she sings, “If you leave the light on / then I’ll leave the light on.”
Listeners that have been following Rogers budding career will recognize “Alaska” and “On + Off” from her 2017 EP, Now That the Light is Fading. While the tracks are far from new, they anchor the album, showcasing Rogers’ unique proclivity for blending folksy elements with those that make a person get up and dance. Both her delicacy and her daringness are at the forefront.
Rogers so earnest about her self-doubt on “Retrograde,” admitting, like your stressed-out friend on the phone, “Here I am, settled in, freaking out.” The song’s driving beat elicits the therapeutic feeling of wrestling with oneself until the person in the mirror is no longer a stranger. “If only I could get back / If I could let me out,” Rogers wishes. Like many creative women before her, she looks to the great Stevie Nicks, nodding to the title track of the icon’s debut solo album, Bella Donna, as she sings, “Listening when Stevie says / ‘Come out from the darkness.” While fully committing to a Rogers/Nicks comparison seems premature just yet, there is a certain whimsicalness to Rogers that is not entirely unfamiliar.
Like most debuts, the record has its forgettable moments. “The Knife,” “Burning,” and “Past Life,” will likely not make it onto your Spotify playlists. However, they do not threaten the integrity of the record.
Heard It In a Past Life is required listening for any twenty-something that must pack up the old apartment for the sake of the new; find the most familiar love suddenly inaccessible; discover rebirth is born out of breakdown. Which is to say, all of us.