By Kenneth Cox
In 2018's remake of A Star is Born, Lady Gaga's character Ally finds herself skyrocketing to fame after a video of her performing with the country star Jackson Maine goes viral overnight. While it may seem like the stuff of movie magic, for 24-year-old singer/songwriter Maggie Rogers, it is reality. In 2016, the singer went viral when she presented her song "Alaska" to a masterclass at NYU taught by music legend Pharrell. Demand for new music grew, and Rogers delivered with her 2017 five-song release Now That the Light is Fading. Tracks of hers amassed millions of streams, and Rogers quickly became one of the most buzzed-about names in music. Now two years later, after a steady stream of new music and mounting hype, Rogers has finally released her studio debut album, Heard it in a Past Life.
The record seamlessly bridges together the Maggie Rogers of the past and the present.
"Alaska," the song that brought her to the spotlight, appears as the fourth track of the album, sounding just as futuristic and otherworldly as it did years ago. The song's blend of atmospheric synths, acoustic guitar strumming, and Rogers' signature falsetto and harmonies creates a track that is unlike any other, both nostalgic, and years ahead of its time. "On + Off," another track from Rogers' early career, fits perfectly within the structure of the album, combining the folk and electronic influences that are present throughout most of the album. The song features Rogers' knack for infectious choruses, while the production sounds like something straight out of the future.
Newer tracks on the album showcase the artistic growth that Rogers' has developed throughout her career thus far.
The album's opener, "Give a Little," begins with a glitching electronic beat before morphing into a groovy, summery track. The song's bassline recalls a disco track from the '70s, while the drum machines in the background make it unmistakably modern. It is a track that encapsulates the best that a pop song can deliver. Later track "Light On" features Rogers reckoning with her rapid rise to stardom, exposing her honest feelings of fear that developed with her new status: "Would you hear me out if I told you I was terrified for days/Thought I was gonna break." The anxiety of fame expressed by Rogers eventually blossoms into an anthemic chorus, with Rogers accepting herself and her new circumstances amongst triumphant drums and swirling synth arrangements.
The mid-album highlight "Say It" showcases yet another new side of the singer.
Rogers experiments with an R&B-infused sound as she sings over a rollicking electronic beat about the conflict of trying to resist new love: "I cannot fall in love with you/I cannot feel this way so soon". It is a track unlike anything she has released thus far, but still fits perfectly within her sound, a testament to Rogers' ability to work with a variety of different styles, but remain unmistakably herself.
The crown jewel of the album, however, is "Fallingwater."
The ninth track of the album, the song is a collaboration with producer Rostam Batmanglij - famous for his involvement in the indie rock band Vampire Weekend. Rogers described the song as one focusing on the struggles of dealing with rapid change and vulnerability as an artist: "I fought the current running just the way you would/And now I'm in the creek/And it's getting harder/I'm like falling water." Rogers delivers what may be the best vocal performance of her career thus far, fully embracing the emotion of the track, and allowing it to build to a crescendo as the chorus arrives. Midway through, the track has a breakdown that eventually builds to its own unique version of the chorus, drums booming and layers of vocals combining together into a moment of catharsis. The song is both intimate and expansive, a panoramic portrait of singular emotion.
Heard It in a Past Life is a stunning debut for Maggie Rogers.
After years of pre-release hype and singles, the singer has delivered a record that is unquestionably her own. The record combines the sounds of her past singles along with new developments in her artistry. Rogers has cemented herself as an artist to watch for 2019, and one whose music is poised to take over your next playlist.