After leaving Pharrell speechless with her intimate, folksy debut single “Alaska” at an NYU workshop for student musicians, she had some evolution to do. Her debut album, Heard It In A Past Life, released three years after her talk with Pharrell (the resulting clip went viral), was filled with yearning and want, combining her earlier work (“Alaska”, “On + Off”) with phenomenal new additions (“Say It”, “Fallingwater”, “Give A Little”). But on her new release, Surrender, the fully-formed musician is here, still rough around the edges, but bursting at the seams with joy and confidence.
Lead single “That’s Where I Am” was an immediate departure from her debut album in terms of sound and style — replacing the twee, folksy side of her with gritty guitars and hard-hitting bass, but even more clearly, she’s found a new muse — love. “When we’re together it feels like heaven / You’re the only one I ever wanted / All I ever really wanted was you,” she says dreamily towards the end. This is exemplified even more on the second single, “Want Want”, more about lust than love. “When we’re cheek to cheek / I feel it in my teeth / And it’s too good to resist,” she sings over the commanding beat, more in-your-face than she’s sounded before.
The album’s devotional climax comes with “Anywhere With You,” where she screams on the bridge, “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?” It’s downright Swiftian, combining the emotional intensity of “All Too Well” and the momentum and drive of “State of Grace.” When she admits, “All I’ve ever wanted is to make something / Fucking last,” it’s a moment of stripped-down humanity begging to be noticed.
She utilizes her voice in a stronger way on this album — where previously, she remained light and contained, like on “Fallingwater,” she isn’t afraid to reach the high notes and scream it out here, like on “Anywhere With You” or “Want Want.” The problem, though, is that it feels like her voice gets ahead of the instrumentals — “Horses” and “I’ve Got A Friend” feel off-balance, the backing tracks unable to keep up with her voice.
The album’s best moments come when Rogers unleashes, culminating in the “feral joy” she’s so often talked about. “I don’t really care if it nearly kills me,” she threatens in “Shatter”, “I could break a glass just to watch it shatter / I’d do anything just to feel with you.” Even “Want Want” with its nonsensical titular lyric “If you want want what you want want, then you want it,” has me singing along with it in the car, fully hypnotized by her confidence. Her melodies, too, are improved, the slick and swaggering “Be Cool” telling her partner to calm down their lust for her. It also tells the story of how the album came to be, and one I wish everyday to be confident enough to replicate: “Sick of the sound of self importance / I fucked off for a month or two.”
The album’s recording took place after sequestering herself in remote Maine shortly after the pandemic started, and it’s clear these songs (“Shatter”, “Want Want”, “Anywhere With You”) are begging to be played live. Even if some melodies are misplaced, some lyrics a bit corny, Surrender is packed with the confidence and love that peeked out from Heard It In A Past Life in small doses.
Listen to Surrender by Maggie Rogers HERE
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