Song by Song: Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life

I was first exposed to Maggie Rogers in the same way that most people were: that adorable video of Pharrell Williams reacting to her pre-mastered cut of Alaska. I immediately fell in love with her brand of folk-driven pop, and began following her on all the appropriate channels, wondering if she was going to be a one-hit wonder or if there was real talent that would produce additional gems. Over the last two years or so, I’ve been pleased to find that the latter is true: I don’t believe Maggie has yet to produce a truly bad song. Seriously.

This hasn’t been more evident than in her 2019 debut album, Heard It In A Past Life. The first full-length album contains that first breakout single Alaska, as well as the few singles she’s released over the past two years in a drip campaign. Additionally and thankfully, there are a few songs on the album that haven’t been released prior, making the album both a journey back in time and a look forward as to where the young artist may be headed with her music.

Overall, I give Heard It In a Past Life 9/10. Had there been a cohesive narrative throughout the album, I think the debut would be perfect. We’ll have to deal with consistent themes of coming-of-age pop instead: relationship ups & downs, discovering one’s self, etc. There are certainly themes, but no top-to-bottom story. We get themes on a track-by-track basis. No worries, though: the album is still phenomenal, and will be on repeat for some time to come. Below, a song-by-song breakdown:

Give a Little: This anthem for the national gun walk-out is also an anthem for compromise and empathy. It accomplishes this without compromising on production quality, however, with background vocals beautifully haunting the entire song and a bridge that outshines the chorus. For all of the the sonic strength in the song, it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album due to the oversimplified lyricism that we don’t find on some of the subsequent works. 6/10

Overnight: Maggie’s favorite song from the album is pretty close to my own (though not it). She’s probably very personally attached to it, being a letter from pre-Pharrell Maggie to post-Pharrell Maggie. The dangers of fame (or any other sudden life-altering change) are real, and Maggie addresses them clearly but also is honest in her assessment: she appreciates the new her (“don’t say you miss me”), while recognizing that the old Maggie is vital to her identity as well. All of this introspection is wrapped with synth-led packaging which includes samples from frogs and glaciers as her signature inclusion of natural sounds. Catchy and stunning. 9/10

The Knife: While the previous Overnight seems to be Maggie’s favorite, this track is my favorite song from the album. Meant to be a song about “dancing it all off with your friends”, I’ve found myself moving with the track regardless of how full the room is. As seducing as the melody is, the real star on the track is Maggie’s vocals. Her voice moves between falsetto punctuations and sultry phrases flawlessly, and the emotional effect is real. 10/10

Alaska: The one that started it all, and a true highlight of Maggie’s brand of music. The most impressive part of the song for me? The fact that somehow Alaska seems to have so much space in it while simultaneously being lush. I think this is a direct result of including natural samples alongside Maggie’s vocals. At times full and other times breathy, her vocals move the song along the percussion river that also keeps the head nodding. It was a hit for a reason, mastered or otherwise. 10/10

Light On: Intended as a “song of gratitude” towards her fanbase, this is one of those songs that strikes me initially as an upbeat, hope-filled tune…but upon further listening is a bit more melancholic than that. I know it has that whole “I’m feeding off your vibes when I’m down” thing going for it, but it’s low-key a downer. I don’t connect with it emotionally like I do some of the other songs. That said, musically speaking, the song is a solid middle track with a catchy and singalongable chorus. The 80s-esque synth loop provides a great layering until it drops out, focusing on the last vocalization from Maggie which brings the song to a sharp resolution. Side note: the music video is really fun. 5/10

Past Life: And now, for something a bit different. This track which according to Maggie herself “ends Side A” is a slow one, supposedly written at her grandmother’s piano. Not sure if it’s just me, but I totally get a Stevie Nicks vibe from the track, with the simplified arrangement highlighting Ms. Rogers’ vocals. Not my favorite song on the album, but that’s more a personal preference than actual song construction. 6/10

Say It: We go from the 80s vibe of Light On to the Stevie Nicks tribute song in Past Life and with Say It, we’re finally to the TLC era of 90s R&B. Maggie is just showing off at this point. Lyrically one of the simpler songs on the album (shout out to the word “swelter”, though), you really do get the sparkly feeling of having a crush from the airy vocals and giddy cadence of the chorus. Highlight on this track? The percussion, hands down. Listen to that hi-hat! 8/10

On + Off: Unlike the previous two tracks, this one is a previously released single (appearing on Now That The Light Is Fading, Maggie’s 2017 EP), and remains one of my favorite Maggie songs to date. The pendulum nature woven throughout the song (staccato verses, swinging chorus, steady bass layer) drives home the emotional impact of the lyrics: puppy love isn’t everything; relationships are also about consistency & stability. I think it could’ve been shortened a tad, as the ending seems extended past its expiration. 9/10

Fallingwater: Maggie’s song dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright shows her utter devotion to architecture and….I’m kidding. It’s another song about the roller coaster ride that Maggie’s been on over the last couple of years. The biggest thing about this song to me is not what it contains, but rather what it doesn’t. Throughout Fallingwater, it becomes very obvious that Maggie has pipes. Like real pipes. Classic pipes. Like Sister-Act-Mary-Robert-singing-Salve-Regina pipes. But they’re never unleashed, always restrained. Sure, you get glimpses of it toward the end, but only just so. We never get the full picture of Maggie’s vocals. Hoping to get to hear them soon, but in the meantime, they’re still enjoyable on this solid, but not extraordinary, track. 7/10

Retrograde: Another fun track, and another one where we get a real glimpse at Maggie’s vocal range. I think Retrograde is actually one of the most sonically interesting songs on the album, the meat of the song is a different topic than one that’s been covered, and the track itself is one of those belt-out-when-alone-in-the-house type songs. Particularly love the guitar on this one, and hope to be able to see it performed live, considering it’s one of Maggie’s favorites to perform. Bonus points for using the word retrograde as a title. 10/10

Burning: A song for summer in NYC. Headphones in, sunshine out, enjoying life, so you blast it and sing in your head along the sidewalks of West Village. That’s this song. It also helps that it brings the aural whitespace of Alaska back in full-force, to the point where I’d consider them the fraternal twins in Maggie’s family of songs. Maggie is also obviously joy-filled in the booth singing this song; you can sense the smile on her face while she sings “I’m in love; I’m alive, oh, I’m burning”. 9/10

Back In My Body: The ending to the “other side” and the album altogether, this song is the final song along the theme of self-discovery. Despite the resemblance to a Florence & The Machine track, I didn’t connect with this one as much. Maybe it’s the theme, maybe it’s the composition, I don’t know. I still think it’s a decent track, but one that I’ll likely skip a bit more often than the others. 5/10

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