Maggie Rogers thrives in a space where elements oppose each other. Pair that with an ability to not only feel the world vehemently, but to recalibrate when life rapidly transfigures, and you get Heard it in a Past Life.
Life changed dramatically for Rogers in July of 2016, when Pharrell Williams held a surprise master class at NYU, where Rogers was completing her senior year as a music student. Although Williams listened to multiple examples of student work, he quickly lionized Rogers within the classroom setting, heaping praise on her song “Alaska.” Williams noticed a match between Rogers’s description of her lived experience and the music. She described her sound as rooted in the folk from her youth (having grown up playing harp and banjo), but also as taking on a new life when she studied abroad and discovered the world of electronic dance music. Unknowingly to Rogers, Pharrell’s praises were recorded on video and uploaded to YouTube. Two million views later, and Rogers has achieved eminence in the music industry.
Following the viral video, Rogers launched a world tour, starred as a musical guest on “SNL” and opened for Mumford and Sons, all after only releasing a five-song EP and a couple of singles. In her documentary published in March of 2018, she relayed the daunting notion of life spinning out of control, and the importance of creating a thoughtful, reflective space to artistically create on her own time. Heard it In a Past Life is Rogers’s proclamation of recapturing herself and her story.
The album explores contradictions, particularly those that have emerged since Rogers’s rise to fame. Rogers creates a space that explores humanity with a lens that is both macroscopic and microscopic, a freedom that is exhilarating yet messy and a sense of self that is rapidly changing while also continuous. These opposing ideas fit perfectly into the contradiction that is Rogers: folk with slight southern twang, paired smoothly with electronic production.
The album intimately inspects a human’s ability to be a tiny speck among the immensity of Earth. However, humans are simultaneously large-scale, inherently introspective, ever-changing while holding the ability to influence the world grandly. The track “Alaska” touches on the austere grandeur of Earth, as Rogers’s trip to Alaska after her freshman year of college illuminated the colossal size of the state’s mountain scenery. Such landscape makes one feel so small, like a gear in the bigger machine. Heard it In a Past Life weaves this macro feeling that the scenery of Alaska provides through each track. For example, the song “Overnight” uses samples from glacier and frog sounds. Moreover, when reflecting on the song “Alaska,” Rogers posted the following comment on Instagram about the process of naming the album: “There are so many aspects of this song that feel like they don’t belong to me, like it’s so much bigger than me. Like I heard it in a past life…”
But the album doesn’t just explore the human life as one piece among a much bigger puzzle. It also runs micro, touching on introspectively watching oneself change. The track “Alaska” notes: “I walked off you… I walked off an old me.” The album’s outro “Back in My Body” (also the name of her documentary) touches on knowing your own purpose and being able to recognize the unlimited impact one’s passions can create. Maggie notes this in her documentary: “…being able to do the things I love, but do them in the way I love, and in my way, and in my time, giving myself the opportunity to just be me.”
Heard it in a Past Life continues to explore contradictions, noting recognition as everything Roger’s has ever wanted, but also as messy and imperfect. In one of her most vulnerable songs, “Light On,” Rogers preaches: “Oh, I couldn’t stop it, tried to slow it all down …everyone around me saying you should be so happy now.” This flawed excitement becomes extremely palpable in the song “Fallingwater,” where Rogers directly references herself as falling water, a symbol of the difficulty in tumbling off the edge, but also a symbol of electricity, moving with the flow of where life is taking her.
The contradictions Rogers explores perfectly match the sound she provides in Heard it In a Past Life. This power to parallel her emotions with the music she creates is a trait Pharrell Williams instantly noticed. The sounds oppose themselves: The first lines of the track “Past Life” highlight vocals with Southern tints, particularly in Rogers’s use of vowel breaking. Songs like “Say It,” however, strike with electronic beats, suddenly launching listeners into a club scene. Rogers starts a rave, but it’s the sort of rave that establishes someone like Mumford and Sons as the DJ. And it’s phenomenal.
Life can be one whole juxtaposition. Maggie moves through space by feeling these oppositions intensely, and then reports back on it.