Reviews

Maggie Rogers’ Surrender: A Newfound Eruption of Emotion

Off the heels of a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist following Heard It In a Past Life, her 2019 debut, Maggie Rogers retreated to the coast of Maine. Her planned self-imposed isolation lasted much longer than expected when the whole world slowed to a halt in March 2020. With no specific point of view or direction to guide her, Rogers looked to the ocean.

After racking up over one billion global streams and completing a voracious touring cycle in the latter half of 2019, Rogers sought out a space to recollect herself amidst the chaos and turbulence of fame. Rather than feeling drained from it all, it seemed that Maggie sought a space to process and collaborate, to explore and to push, to fold and then unfold. While creating a new album wasn’t necessarily on her radar, vibrance and energy filled her.

Created in collaboration with S. Holden Jaffe of Del Water Gap and Kid Harpoon (a co-creator of Harry Styles’ Fine Line), Surrender has been described by Rogers as “feral joy” – complete abandonment of inhibitions to explore unrestrained freedom. The album is sprawling, explosive and incredibly layered, with tracks oscillating between bubblegum pop and string quartets, sometimes both at once. Surrender combines the spontaneity of emotion, the physical brushes of pleasure, and the indelible feeling of leaving an uncompromised mark on the world.

“A lot of the events that Surrender chronicles take place in New York City. In the stark solitude and distance of covid, it was the backdrop for all my claustrophobic fantasies,” said Rogers. “The proximity and pleasure of just staring at strangers. The way a night could unfold. Events that interrupt your day instead of having to consciously and deliberately make each decision. I longed for someone to sweat on me. Spill their beer on my shoes. Be too tall for me to see at the concert.”

And so, after months of solace, Rogers learns to savor the inevitable ebbs and flows of life in an almost seductive way. Surrender’s opener “Overdrive” begins with slow strumming that stumbles into clashing drums, a different, crooning sound for Rogers. Rogers is sick of reciting the age-old cliche “you made me weak at the knees,” and instead, she flips the narrative in reverse, stating she can “go for miles.” So then, what can this individual offer her that augments this newfound voice, her inner strength? As many openers do, “Overdrive” establishes the tone for the rest of the album, with Rogers casting aside the notion that she needs someone else to mend her shaky demeanor: she wants someone to match her energy, to meet her where she’s at.

What follows is “That’s Where I Am,” the explosive, empowering first single off Surrender. The single’s dripping with an Alanis Morissette-like swagger, an instant anthem for those ready to take on the day. “That’s Where I Am” is authenticity in its purest sense, the sound of a woman entering a new musical era. Whoever she’s directly speaking to—be it a prospective lover or New York City itself—Rogers leaves it up to fate, crystallizing a new identity while embracing the unpredictability that every day brings.

Several songs later in the 12-track LP is “Be Cool,” a clear standout outside of the pre-released singles. According to one of Rogers’ older Instagram stories, “Be Cool” is about “the friends that kept me sane in the pandemic.” In many ways, Surrender represents a buoyant, defiant release amidst the darkness and isolation that the pandemic brought. The community she surrounded herself with, like many of us, quite literally kept us grounded and intact among the swirling fear, doubt, and challenges that tomorrow might bring. The synths and gentle drums (lent by Kid Harpoon) sound exceptionally well-crafted, accenting Rogers’ crisp sound.

More than most other songs on Surrender, “Be Cool” finds Rogers flexing her prodigious vocal abilities. It’s clear here that she’s no longer uncertain of self and the topics she wants to express; she’s now shouting them to the mountaintops. That’s not to say that Heard It In A Past Life was dripping with uncertainty or reservations, it’s just that this new album projects so much confidence, so much bravado, it’s like Rogers has ascended to new heights.

“Honey” feels like a near-religious experience, with Rogers commanding a congregation to rise to their feet, cast aside their fears, and join together in unison.

Oh, I believe we’ve all been here before
That time, it’s a memory and it’s an open door
But tell me what happens when you’re on the other side
Is there a party somewhere? Or is it a fucking riot?

As bass drums pound, piano keys rapidly ping and guitars twang, it’s easy to picture the appeal this song will have in front of live audiences.

With Surrender, the gentle sounds and calculated composure of Heard It In A Past Life are gone, and in exchange, Maggie Rogers seizes confidence worthy of a coronation. Seamlessly blending nostalgia with alt-rock and indie pop, folk undertones and arena rock, Rogers has managed to harness chaos into an eruption of emotion and freedom.

Surrender simultaneously cements and signals that Rogers is here to stay, and that she has unfinished business and exploration to uncover. Though the album is not without its insecurities, and anxieties with Rogers acknowledging she doesn’t have all the answers, her second album is poised to shake arenas across the country. The Maggie Rogers we all know is gone, transformed into someone a little more whole, a little bit surer, but resorting to restlessness and release – “feral joy” – to show a new side of herself.

Surrender is out tomorrow.

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