Years ahead of her major-label debut, Maggie Rogers attended a masterclass at New York University hosted by Pharrell Williams. She played “Alaska,” a song that she had recently recorded and mixed, and Williams’ reaction soon went viral.
“Alaska” appears on “Heard It In A Past Life,” buried underneath a stack of three tracks that kick the album off to a funky start. Rogers’ signature combination of hippie folk and French dance sound is difficult to imagine, but she blends the two genres seamlessly. In a particularly stunning example, Rogers’ Florence Welch-inspired vocals float over sparse, electronic percussion at the start of “On + Off” before catapulting over waves of synth in the chorus.
Rostam Batmanglij, whose recent credits include HAIM’s and Lykke Li’s most recent albums, steps in as a producer on the single “Fallingwater,” and his preference for a high, quavering vocal is evident in Rogers’ execution. Batmanglij has a way of pulling sounds out of vocalists that you might never hear otherwise. The song ends with a poignant wail from Rogers, a dramatic cry for help in the midst of an album about self-reflection and forward momentum. Rogers herself, in a tweet meant to promote the song, wrote only:
I didn’t know that I could sing like this.
Something woke up.
“Heard It In a Past Life” opens with “Give A Little,” a song whose music and lyrics condense the album into a thesis statement. “If I was who I was before,” Rogers vocalizes, “then I’d be waiting at your door, but I cannot confess I am the same.” The lyrics plead for recognition and community from the listener while still bouncing along a waterfall of percussion. Rogers is here to control her narrative, to communicate on her own terms, and her sole term seems to be an orchestra of handclaps and electric guitar. The track serves as a perfect introduction to Rogers’ sound and her lyrical focuses for the album. Rogers commands your attention and promises that you can command hers, too.
Highlights from the album include “Overnight,” an ultimatum fraught with panic and set to pulsing synths, and “On + Off,” the album’s second single with an accompanying music video that will make you appreciate what director Zia Anger can pull off on a low budget.
“Heard It In A Past Life” is now available from Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play, and wherever albums are sold.