Maggie Rogers’ new album meets expectations

Courtesy of Capitol Records
Heard it in a Past Life is Rogers’ first LP since 2014’s independent Blood Ballet.

Josiah Martin | Arts & Entertainment Editor

01/24/19

Maggie Rogers’ rise to mainstream fame has been swift and well-deserved. A well-known indie pop artist with a reputation for heartfelt dreamy-but-danceable tracks, her transition to major-label success seemed inevitable from the start.

Heard it in a Past Life feels like just that — a transition. While a promising album, Rogers may need to diversify and develop her style further if she hopes to continue climbing to the pop-legend status her audience has come to expect from her.

The album opens with “Give a Little,” a track with more energy and bounce than I have come to expect from Rogers. The following track, “Overnight,” features a fast, rhythmic, almost rap-like vocal delivery in the verses — a refreshing change of pace.

With her move to Capitol Records, and with the whole world now watching, one would expect Rogers to often try out new experiments like these. Unfortunately, she opts to “play it safe” with most of the album. With the exception of a few more stimulating tracks like “Say It,” her music melds together. Few tracks stand out as distinct from their surroundings, let alone stand out as memorable.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course. Rogers’ style is distinctly atmospheric, and a coherent, mellow flow between songs certainly reflects this style. Take this too far, though, and an album can end up being boring. Rogers’ comes dangerously close.

Luckily, the album is saved by its standout tracks, which are primarily ones that fans have already heard — “Alaska,” “On + Off” and “Fallingwater” are some of the best songs of Rogers’ career up to this point. Capitol Records should consider offering a cash reward to any listener that can resist the temptation to sway along to these songs. It’s near impossible.

As with any album, it has its low point — the “leave the album running while you get up to get a snack” track. For Heard it in a Past Life, unfortunately, it’s the title track, “Past Life.” Rogers’ trademark gentle approach to vocals works very well for synthy folk-pop inspired tracks, but not here, backed only by piano. Perhaps the producers of the album were trying to make the song sound like an intimate  one-on-one performance. Instead, it sounds like a half-baked demo to a song.

Again, this whole album is a transition — Rogers has enjoyed near-universal acclaim in the much more forgiving and supportive spheres of indie and folk pop. This album is the sound of Rogers stepping carefully and gently into the high-demand world of mainstream success. It’s a good first step, but doesn’t say much about her talents that she hadn’t already made clear.

Make no mistake — Heard it in a Past Life is a very good album. However, with her first major LP, one would expect Rogers to prove that she has so much more to offer as an artist, and this album doesn’t accomplish that. What it does prove, luckily, is that Rogers is a consistent artist who will stick true to her roots. She will not abandon what made her successful in the first place, and is capable of maintaining the quality that her fans have known her for.

 

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