Album Review By Casey Carlson
When Maggie Rogers began selling out arenas across the country in 2019 following the release of her debut album Heard It In A Past Life, it was easy to see her as an artist who knew where she was going. During songs, she would dance and sing on stage with ferocity, her voice just as good as the album. But when the songs stopped, her eyes would dart around the room – and smiling – she would laugh as she listened to fans wave and cheer, almost in disbelief of her stardom. It’s everything an ambitious pop star could want.
Heard It In A Past Life was a departure from the folksy sound Maggie Rogers was making before her mainstream debut. In December of 2020, she released Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011–2016. A compilation album made from previous recordings or b-sides is typically a move made by aging or even dead musicians. Around the time of the release, Maggie revealed that she was attending seminary school at Harvard University. Which begged the questions from her fans. Where is the new music? Is she done making songs? What is she doing at Harvard?
Behind the scenes, however, Maggie Rogers was working towards a post-pandemic comeback. She graduated from Harvard in May with a master’s degree in religion and public life. This wasn’t an honorary degree a lot of schools just give out to artists – It was earned. Her thesis examines cultural consciousness, spirituality in concerts, and the ethics of pop power. During which, she was also recording her new album Surrender, which is out today on Capitol Records. Her time at Harvard, combined with the songs on Surrender make it clear that Maggie Rogers is not just embracing her pop stardom – she wants it to be sustainable.
Fans are adopting the marketing of pop records lately by marking new looks or new albums as a specific “era”, a term typically reserved for historians working on music documentaries or books. But in the case of Surrender it’s easy to see this as a new era for Maggie Rogers – right down to the album cover. Heard It In A Past Life shows a grainy film photo of Maggie dancing in the desert, hair blowing in the wind under a full moon. Likewise, it’s an upbeat, whimsical record. Surrender, on the other hand, shows Maggie in a pixie cut ala a young Dolores O’riordan, In a photo studio against a solid backdrop. It’s a black and white photo with her eyes just as sharp as the image, staring right into you. It sets a much more serious tone for Surrender than Heard it in a Past Life did.
Musically, it almost sounds punk by comparison. Songs on Surrender sound distorted, glitchy, and even muffled at times. The first single from the record released back in April, Thats Where I Am, has all of these sounds without affecting Maggie Rogers’ voice. It’s a good transition between albums, while still feeling like the “Movie Ending” she used to describe the song when it was released. Surrender is just as autobiographical as Heard it in a Past Life, even if it sounds angrier. On ‘’That’s Where I Am” she sings “You kept me waiting and I hated you then.” On Want Want the second single from the album, she sings “Can’t fake what you can’t break up with / If you understand that a few years won’t erase it / Might die if you can’t live just to taste it.” If her last album was ‘Just crying in the bathroom trying to figure it out” she sings on Light On, Surrender is “I know there’s times when I can be a lot to handle and I’m working with a therapist to take care of it.” She sings on Symphony.
One of the more hidden parts on this record, and Maggie Rogers songwriting overall, is that she leaves gender out of her lyrics.The absence of “he” and “she” from her songwriting means that her songs are not focused toward anyone specifically, which makes the songs more approachable for listeners of all or no gender. The narrator could be anyone, and the songs are for anyone. While this is something that may be glossed over by listeners and critics alike, It’s refreshing to see this kind of songwriting in a modern world, and especially in pop music.
Even outside of the album’s release, Fans have been welcoming the Maggie Rogers’s Surrender era with open arms. She headlined Coachella back in April (which doubled as a school project for her masters degree) and debuted a few new songs from the record, and has gone on to play the full album for fans at small shows around the world. She’s even started a film club, where fans can watch movies that helped inspire the new album with her. On top of embracing the pomp and circumstance of a record release, she seems to have much more of a handle on her status as a pop artist. The slingshot to stardom that came from the Alaska video went viral and having to record Heard it in a Past Life in just two weeks – Then straight into a world tour throughout 2019 – is a lot. Surrender comes after a break from touring, a global pandemic, a tumultuous election cycle, and earning a masters degree – Which is also a lot. But that kind of build up to Surrender is worth the release for both the listener – and for Maggie.