Heard It in a Past Life: Maggie Rogers is a Big-Ticket Indie-Pop Pioneer
Maggie Rogers’ record deal came shortly after Pharrell Williams head-bopped to her debut single, “Alaska,” at an undergraduate seminar at the NYU Clive Davis Institute in 2016. A livestream of the masterclass shows Rogers biting her lip and hesitantly rocking back and forth, unapologetically unable to control her urge to just jam and slyly peeking at Pharrell for some wink of affirmation.
At the masterclass, Pharrell called the track something that you “can’t compare to anything else.” Since then, Rogers has fully grasped her self-proclaimed identity as a “witchy, feminist rock star,” with her debut album, Heard It In A Past Life.
Heard It In A Past Life is centered around a motif of self-realization and growth. Most songs carry messages nodding heavily to the meaning behind her line in “Alaska”: “And I walked off you/And I walked off an old me.”
The album solidifies that “Alaska” wasn’t just a stand-alone fit into the indie-pop genre. It proves that her impressive vocal abilities and falsetto skills are adaptable and heavily marketable in an era where genre-bending is arguably what makes pop music cool.
The lengthy list of names in the production credits serves some potential explanation for the electronica-drown out of folk-destined lyrics. However, Rogers still manages to pull off a rhythmic cooperation between a big-ticket pop formula and a true, indie core with her vocal talents and whimsical songwriting.
The opening track, “Give A Little,” delivers a primary taste of self-proclamation mixed with a call for empathy. Partly inspired by the national school walk out for gun control, Rogers calls for listeners to “give a little”: “And if you're waiting in the sun/Then carry me on wings of love/To that brighter day where all begins.”
This theme extends to the sixth track, “Past Life” — the first song off the album that Rogers wrote on her grandmother’s piano, located back at her childhood home in Maryland. She posted a handwritten note on Twitter in mid-January, claiming that the song “came flooding in like a dream.” Her opening lyrics are folky and Bob Dylan/revolution-esque, reading, “Oh, I could feel the change a'coming/Saw it on TV/Oh, I could feel the change a'coming/Saw it staring right on back at me.”
“Fallingwater” is a standout track with a natural melodic buildup, outlining the loss of control in a relationship. “And I’m stuck upstream/And it’s getting harder/I’m like falling water,” she sings, leading into graceful humming and a chant-like groove, with some Stevie Nicks-esque falsetto at its close. The anthem-like nature of this song is a single tell-tale that Rogers is here to stay.
The ballad-esque final track, “Back In My Body,” wraps up Rogers’ message of triumph and empowerment. Through her recent personal and career self-assessment, she rightfully claims, “This time I know I’m fighting/This time I know I’m back in my body.”