I was a very big fan of Maggie Rogers in the year before and after her debut album Heard It In A Past Life was released. Other bastards on here may have been less keen, but for me it was a full length record that showcased an exciting and dynamic new talent to fit into the Indie Pop space with anthemic tunes and an electric live show.
Three years on, with an archive compilation released to fill the gap, we get a very different artist on her long-awaited follow up album Surrender. It seems reductive to even mention Maggie cutting her hair short for the record’s artwork, but it’s a very obvious way I can explain the immediate difference between Surrender and its predecessor; this is instantly a more stripped back sound from an artist who easily could have gone the opposite direction.
The opening four tracks really set the tone for this new direction, the guitars are a bit skuzzier, the backing vocals less bright and the energy is a lot more grounded than the soaring pop from previous records. ‘Want Want’ is a pop banger waiting to bang, it’s a curious listen on a record where I actually feel like it deserves to be dialled up a bit. Like an indie band singing a pop band’s record without any of the ‘magic’. ‘That’s Where I Am’ is similar in that I enjoyed it as a pre-album single but still felt like it needed a bit more energy and power vocally from Rogers.
Luckily we get exactly this on absolute standout ‘Shatter’ later on. Rogers sounds chaotic and almost out of breath by the end of the song, stacked with energy and the closest thing I’ve heard on record from her yet to her outstanding live shows. When she really goes for it on tracks like this, it’s electric and it’s here where the more guitar-led sound works best. ‘Be Cool’ is another killer moment, probably the poppiest hook on the album, and sits next to ‘Shatter’ as the songs I most want to sing along to at a Maggie Rogers gig.
‘Overdrive’ and ‘Anywhere With You’ bookend that opening set of four songs and feel like they really capture the building energy that I love about most Maggie Rogers songs. The more synthy moments on ‘Anywhere With You’ give it a slightly brighter feel, which suits her vocals way more than the less ‘produced’ feel of some other moments. We get some more dreamier moments on ‘Begging For Rain’ and ‘Horses’, but of the two it’s the latter that stands out among a very large crowd of ‘bedroom pop’ a likes. In short, Phoebe Bridgers could perform ‘Begging For Rain’ (and probably suit it more) but she couldn’t perform ‘Horses’ like we get on this album.
‘Honey’ ends up being another highlight for me, a real punchy moment with some really interesting lyrical moments. ‘Symphony’ feels almost like a track from her pre-debut EP era, far less going on instrumentally, very bassy and building very slowly as the track develops. For me it gives a more direct comparison to her earlier music and this ends up being the album’s downfall in the end.
It took for me to see Maggie Rogers live for the first time to go from casual fan to ‘I must have this on vinyl’ and it does feel like much of Surrender is so instrumentally dense and interesting that it’s made for the stage. Occasionally, I lose that energy and it stops the album from being a must-listen for me but as a follow-up record from a brilliant performer it feels like a necessary step away from a Pop sound and headfirst into the Alternative space. Time will tell if it was the right call once I see these songs live.
Words by Sam Atkins