Maggie Rogers - Heard It In a Past Life
Maggie Rogers’ rise to prominence has already been written about to death. Rogers, a student at the Clive Davis Institute, auditioned her class project “Alaska” for superstar producer Pharrell Williams, and it moved him to tears. Within a few years, she is performing on SNL and is as close as ever to being a household name.
It is understandable what Pharrell saw in “Alaska”. Maggie brought to her project a warm voice, a respectable sense of melody, and a relatively unique blend of folksy storytelling with a dance pop sheen. With the potential demonstrated on this first commercial track of hers, it is severely disappointing just how familiar her debut album Heard It In a Past Life feels.
While “Alaska” is included here, the remainder of the album takes on a more streamlined synthpop aesthetic. Rogers has found a formula for her songs that she rarely seems willing to veer off of. Like on tracks “Overnight”, “Give a Little”, and “Say It”, stripped down and bubbly verses serve to nest a grandiose pop chorus. It doesn’t take long for these songs to become both melodically and structurally indistinct from each other. Maggie Rogers is too intent on being as agreeable as possible, and perhaps that is the most offensive aspect of this album.
Lyrically, she aims at being universally relatable and easily accessible. While that approach can often be admirable, it hardly pays off for her. The most prominent example of this would be the excessive schmaltz of “Light On”. “Past Life” is a tired and directionless piano ballad that aims to be more profound and solemn than the context of Heard It In a Past Life allows it to be.
Big name producers like Greg Kurstin are brought on to assist Rogers in packaging these songs. Unfortunately, they show a tragic lack of restraint. This album is plagued with gaudy synth passages, clunky electronic beats and an overall glossy exterior that hides any of the organic charm Maggie was supposed to carry. Sonically, there is nothing to set Maggie Rogers apart from her mainstream pop counterparts as she elects to embrace every overused trend seen in the contemporary top 40.
“Alaska” is a fine song and still the best thing in her arsenal. But outside of that, Heard It In a Past Life lacks any singular personality. It is simply boring. This is the type of painstakingly safe “indie” music that stars in Apple commercials or plays in the background at H&M. In that viral video, Pharrell praised Maggie Rogers for doing something that sounds completely unique. With time she did the exact opposite and made music that sounds like everyone else.