Supporting Haim in the Olympia last summer, Maggie Rogers seemed as though she could be the California sisters’ cool east-coast cousin. Although she’d only released a handful of songs at that stage, the 24 year old had already begun to make a name for herself.
Rogers’ sudden rise to fame has been well-documented. While studying at NYU in 2016, she played one of her tracks during a masterclass with Pharrell Williams, which seemed to stun the veteran producer. “Wow,” he told her afterwards. “I have zero notes for that.” When a video of the interaction went viral, Rogers promptly got a record contract, went on tour with Haim and Mumford & Sons, and secured a spot on Saturday Night Live. It’s an impressive couple of years for someone who had yet to release her first major label album.
But now comes ‘Heard It In A Past Life’, Rogers’ long-awaited major label debut (having previously released two albums independently), which brings a few more ‘wow’ moments. It’s a lush piece of work in her distinctive style, blending elements of folk and pop with the energy and textures of dance music. Rogers grew up playing the banjo and has said that she initially intended to create a type of post-modern folk, but it’s clear that she has picked up more ideas along the way from the likes of Lorde, Taylor Swift, Bon Ivor and Bjork.
The highlight of the album is Alaska – the song that caught Pharrell’s attention three years ago. It’s a sumptuously layered track, brimming with ideas without sounding chaotic, while Rogers’ dreamy vocals move like the gentle breathing and flowing water described in her lyrics.
Although nothing else quite reaches the creative heights of Alaska, there’s plenty to admire about ‘Hard It In A Past Life’. Including catchy opening track Give A Little, which sounds like Haim, if their rock riffs were replaced with punchy synths, as well as the raw romance of On + Off and the captivating space of Fallingwater. The only issue is that, with the exception of Retrograde, there is little brand new material to get overly excited about here.
But throughout the mix of old and new, the tracks on ‘Heard It In A Past Life’ are connected by the idea of change. The sudden shifts in Rogers’ life and career are explored in Light On, which is the real heart of the album. “Would you hear me out, if I told you I was terrified for days? Thought I was gonna break,” she sings, openly addressing the overwhelming feelings that came with her new-found success.
These emotions come to a head in the album’s finale, Back In My Body, where Rogers recalls the stress of her first tour: “I was over in Paris when I almost ran away. Two times round the block before I decided to stay.” But after the vulnerability and uncertainty that crept into previous tracks, this one ends on a resolute note with Rogers declaring that she’s ready to fight for her art. It’s a strong finish to the album and hopefully a sign that there’s much more to come in the future.