Not only in her voice, but in the way she pieces together her work and tugs at you. And three years after she was plastered across your friends’ social media feeds and was being talked about in breathy tones on radio programmes and at the back of gigs, Rogers is here with her first major-label album.
Making a first ‘major’ album, which already must be one of the most daunting things a creative person can embark on, must become an almost unmanageable feat when you add the pressure of Pharrell Williams liking the first track he (and everyone else) ever heard from you.
I fell in love with that first thing we heard from Rogers: the found sounds, how connected it felt to nature and to her. There was real magic about that first track. Rogers, who is from a rural part of the eastern shore of Maryland, grew up playing folk music and being outside. She said, in that famous meeting with Williams: “I made very straight ahead folk music, that’s where my soul is….but I stopped making music for a couple of years…and went through some things and developed…”, which is when she discovered other forms of music that made her heart sing just as much as folk, namely dance. “Since there was a fire people have been beating sticks together and suddenly it became the most natural thing.”
On first listen, Heard It In A Past Life takes shape before you as a solid debut pop record – but maybe not the one that was expected. If you go in expecting Rogers to give you that rare tingle of a thing you felt in the first few seconds of her music before you’ll likely be a bit disappointed, at least at first. But if you put that to one side it’s perfectly possible to listen on a new plane where Swiftian breezes blow through and the beat rarely relents. A lingering worry grows throughout that first listen – that sometimes the music industry takes that found-sound strewn little pebble and shines it up until it’s bright enough and loud enough to fill a stadium. But actually as you cycle through again and again, as you break it in, and the gleam wears off, you start to see Rogers really come through, standing on the shoulders of Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Roisin Murphy and Joni Mitchell, all the while making something entirely new.
“The Knife” is a clawing, ravenous track pumping through veins and dancing in corners on its own while “Light On” evokes Taylor Swift in both the parochial sense as well as in the lungs full of pain and lost love shouting into a majestic void. “Fallingwater” feels like a natural next step from “Alaska” and is built on the power of Rogers’ vocals, which almost get overlooked thanks to the sheer breadth of other ideas present here. While tracks like “Back in My Body”, “Overnight” and “Light On” are filled with the gut-wrenching weight of being alive that many of us go through, grounding the many levels of the record in real life.
The magic by which we were all spellbound in those early days remains, now augmented by a newfound range of diverse influences. Rogers writes anthems for the modern age, with all the paradoxical feelings of empowerment, anxiety, heartbreak and growth that that entails.