Maggie Rogers has always had a rather spiritual undertone to her music. Her debut album, Heard It In a Past Life, was flooded with ethereal imagery in regards to the body (“Back In My Body”) and the soul (“Past Life”), electronic beats grounded in the sounds of nature and a folksy spirit. After the success of her viral hit “Alaska” and a compilation album titled Notes From The Archive: Recordings from 2011-2016, consisting of demos and unreleased recordings, her next career venture certainly wasn’t your typical pop star move: enrolling in Harvard Divinity School. Returning with a sophomore album and a Master’s thesis of the same name, Surrender, Rogers enlisted her musical talents to ask the big questions within self-assured, energetic pop numbers.
Much of Surrender is centered around the feelings that can seem too strong or powerful for words alone: blinding, emotionally supercharged moments of joy or rage too big for a singular body to contain. The thing is, Rogers isn’t just interested in conveying such intensity, but injecting it into the lifeblood of the listening experience itself. She isn’t just saying how she feels, she’s inviting you to feel it too. As she explores the depths of her own unbridled desire, she introduces vibrant new sounds on “Want Want,” which features heavy levels of distortion and drums. As this sound attempts to match her energy, it generates a sort of physicality to her music, one comprised of hard-hitting sounds that induce a physical, visceral reaction when listening — like a pounding, satisfyingly intense buzz reverberating around the inside of your skull.
On “Overdrive,” this energy continually surges throughout its hypnotic beat and distorted backing guitar reminiscent of Soccer Mommy’s Color Theory — or any other indie rock album from the last decade, for that matter. But it’s a novel sound for Rogers, and embrace it she does, as “a chaos (she) could control.” Perhaps most prominent on “Shatter,” Rogers dances around nostalgic, catchy melodies only to nearly erupt in the bridge, where her voice takes on a raw, uncharacteristically strained state of vulnerability in bursting, confessional lines: “I’m scared and I’ve got all this anger trapped so deep inside” or “I don’t really care if it nearly kills me / I’d give you the world if you asked me to / I could break a glass just to watch it shatter / I’d do anything just to feel with you.”
It’s pure, unadulterated rage in the form of upbeat, sparkling tracks; a feral joy, if you will, one that spills out into the bright, pulsing piece of pop perfection that is her extremely fitting lead single, “That’s Where I Am.” The hard-edged guitars and skippy drumbeat meet a hand-clapping chorus that’s infectiously hopeful. It’s the sappy, sweet, ridiculously catchy tune that plays over the end credits of a ’90s rom-com effectively mimicking the sappy, sweet sentiments of anyone who just watched said movie. The bridge is a bit of a speed rush in of itself as she whirls through “No I’ll never find another, no one else can do it better / When we’re together it feels like heaven / You’re the only one I ever wanted / All I ever really wanted was you.” Singing along to it is a bit like spinning yourself dizzy just for the heck of it, knowing that five minutes from now you might be on the verge of throwing up, but for right now, it all feels blissfully good.
This is not to say that Rogers has totally lost touch with her roots. Before the distortions and killer drums kick into verse two of “Anywhere With You,” its tempo and tone would certainly be at home on her debut; the beat building up the first half is eerily similar to that of “Light On.” And yet as she bites out lines like “Would you tell me if I ever started holding you back? / Would you talk me off the guard rail of my panic attack? / Look me straight in my center and tell me from the heart / Are you ready to start?” the two songs could not be further apart. There’s a newfound directness and confidence in her writing that makes the highs of this album feel all the more euphoric and the lows all the more devastating. Her vocals gradually trickle out into a melancholic outro that resides in the stillness following the influx of all that concentrated noise, invoking a gut-wrenching sense of loneliness: a profound absence of what once was.
For most of the album, Rogers teeters on this finely lined balance between the maximalist “more is more” energy of its driving emotions and the softer origins of her lyricism it threatens to overtake. It’s an interesting duality in and of itself, with some songs being oriented around a sound so overpowering you can practically taste it and others having a stripped-back, nearly acoustic quality, like the calm and conversational tone of “Symphony” or the soft-edged ballad “Begging for Rain.” Nevertheless, both approaches induce a raw vulnerability to her emotional delivery, whether it be the overwhelming physicality of her sound or the sentimental nuances of her lyrics, a deep level of empathy courses throughout allowing the listener to feel the painstaking precision with which she cultivates and captures her own emotions. The closing track, “Different Kind of World,” absorbs both of these qualities at once — of soft-sung lyrics trailing out into an outro that briefly erupts into just about every sound at once, the ever-passionate drums and wailing guitar brought back in full force just to taper out once again to Rogers’s earnest declaration that “When we’re riding all together / I’m a different kind of girl.”
Within “Horses” there lies the subliminal message of Surrender in its entirety. In its pleading chorus Rogers asks, “Would you come with me or would you resist? / Oh, could you just give in?” The word “surrender” often carries a negative connotation, evoking a sense of failure in quitting, yet the message that Rogers implores is not to “give up,” but to “give in.” And every aspect of this album follows through on that philosophy of letting yourself be guided by your heart and feeling your feelings to the fullest extent. Surrender is a whirlwind listen, a rollercoaster of emotions that make you want to scream and cry and feel everything all at once. So, go on, give in. Succumb to your curiosity. Give it a listen.
Daily Arts Writer Serena Irani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.