The Maggie Rogers made-it story is done to death by now, but here’s the short version: Rogers played a rough cut of ‘Alaska’ to Pharrell at the Clive Davis Institute. He was stunned (offering “zero notes for that”) and the encounter went viral. Now she’s signed to one of the majors, has played her first festival, and appears to have made her bones for mainstream success.
Her debut full length has not enjoyed the rosiest of receptions from the music press, perhaps because it is Pharrell and not themselves who are responsible for Rogers’ breakthrough. Heard It In A Past Life does not quite live up to Pharrell’s hype. He may say “I’ve never heard anything like that” but I certainly have: Haim, St Vincent put your hands down.
Opener ‘Give A Little’ opens on a springboard of distorted vocal loops, Rogers’ evergreen voice curving easily around the demanding melody. It recalls fond memories of Haim’s ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’, with a breezy west coast lilt.
Grammy winners Greg Kurstin & Ricky Reed are tied to the album, Kurstin co-writing most of the tracks. With producers of that calibre on side they’ll keep you on the right track, however you may find yourself sticking to the middle of the road.
Maggie Rogers is a monopop artist; a growing strain of pop that now encompasses all but the furthest outreaches of the mainstream. Here what is ostensibly pop will bring elements of electronic music, IDM, trap, hip-hop and alt-rock into it’s orbit: all glossed over with a sheen. Spotify playlists absolutely eat it up.
Some cynicism is earned here but Rogers does bring something fresh and interesting with her. ‘Alaska’ is a pretty song, and pretty in a very singular kind of way. It’s using pop music as a tool of self-discovery, and the charm of it is undeniable. ‘Light On’ seems destined to slot into the Spotify generated ‘mood’ playlists like Alone Again or Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (really) but the fact it is about breaking up with her fans and her career, and how close she came to it, and how their love and support steadied her hand, gives it potency.
Maggie Rogers has a voice and vision that is singular and unique, even if she sometimes chooses to express that in the broadest strokes.