By MARINA WATERS
Favorites: Burning, Fallingwater, Overnight, Say It
What I’d call it: An electronic dance, folk album that makes you wanna dance but also sit cross-legged on your bedroom floor pouring over the poem-like lyrics.
Maggie Rogers might have heard it in a past life, but she’s created an album unlike anyone else’s in the here and now.
Maybe it was Maggie Rogers’ ability to intertwine fascinating rhythms with thoughtful lyrics that first caught the ear of Pharrell Williams in a master class while Rogers was attending New York University to study music production, or maybe it was her ability to create an album unlike anything saved on your Spotify playlists. But it’s both of those characteristics that make Heard it in a Past Life the most dynamic album of 2019.
Possibly the most noticeable feature of HIIAPL is the way in which Rogers plays with the rhythm. It’s nearly impossible to find a song that keeps to a monotonous rhythm on the album. Songs like “Fallingwater” and “On + Off” both change beats and rhythms throughout but somehow maintain a cohesive sound. And it’s Rogers’ ability to blend these changing rhythms and textures of her songs that really drives the overwhelming emotion found throughout the 12-song record.
The dance track “Burning” is immediately electrifying with the simple lyrics, “I’m in love I’m alive and I’m burning” that pair perfectly with wild drum beats and a myriad of sounds. Meanwhile, on “Back In My Body”, Rogers erupts with battle cry lyrics, “This time I know I’m fighting, / this time I know I’m (back in my body)” as the sound seems to swell and build with intensity.
But Rogers doesn’t stop there with the production details; the debut album also features bright and energetic tracks with full, layered sounds.
Sonically, the songs are complex and include more than your typical guitar parts and syncopated rhythms. Rogers intertwines sounds from nature such as birds chirping on “Burning” and synthesized frog and glacier audio on “Overnight”. Given her experience in music production, it should come as no surprise that Rogers penned numerous production credits on the album. (Not to mention Rogers also played piano, drums, and percussion on HIIAPL as well as having written or co-wrote each song on the album.)
However, Rogers also manages to pair thoughtful, introspective lyrics throughout the album. While songs like the fast-paced love song “Burning” and the optimistic opening track “Give A Little” offer a heavy dose of dance music, words in songs such as “Back In My Body” and “Alaska” embody Rogers’ strength as a songwriter with an ability to pen thoughtful, vulnerable lyrics.
Words like “I knew it when you walked my way / That I’d be begging you to stay / I couldn’t say it to myself / I couldn’t say it to myself” on the R&B tune “Say It” showcase Rogers ability to pen striking lyrics in a Taylor-Swift like way while also proving there is no genre to which she plans to limit herself.
But the mark of a truly great record isn’t just great production or compelling lyrics, it’s both. And this one just happens to blend those two into a story that’s representative of the past two years of Rogers’ life.
The album is full of autobiographical tracks such as “Back In My Body”, which tells of Rogers’ struggles while touring overseas and “Past Life”, a song Rogers wrote alone on her grandmother’s piano back in Maryland and features haunting vocals. Then there’s “Alaska” the song that first rendered the approval of Pharrell Williams. The song paved the way for Rogers’ but remains one of the most vulnerable songs on the album, detailing a trip to Alaska where Rogers said she found herself again.
Though the album offers a glimpse back at Rogers’ life leading up to her meeting with Pharrell and life thereafter, the album overall sounds unlike anything in pop, electronic, folk or any other musical genre in which Rogers delves. HIIAPL seems to do it all from lyrics to production to emotion without sacrificing any of those three characteristics. And though she may have drawn on the past to form this record, it seems she’s only moving ahead with this forward-thinking album.