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A Love Story, Unfolding Over Lifetimes, Told in Parts: A Review of Maggie Rogers' Surrender

Written By: Isabella Vega Edited By: Nyla Saumier

Our Editor-in-Chief, Isabella Vega, takes you through Maggie Rogers’ newest album, Surrender - the songs, the words, the music - and in turn, tells you about her own experiences with Surrender.

As triumphant as it is experimental, Surrender marks the most free Maggie Rogers has ever sounded or felt, falling into the glory of the artist she was always meant to be.

The change in Rogers’ persona is obvious - gone are the days of twilight-hued guitar-strung melodies, grainy photographs, and almost-auburn hair so long and vibrant, it seemed central to portraying who Rogers was. For Rogers, liberation is a pixie cut so short, the wind tickles the back of her neck with every whisper, a white tank top and jeans on the world’s most coveted stage, and a bass so heavily buzzing, you can feel it in your teeth.

Surrender is a love story, unfolding over lifetimes, told in parts.

The rock-distortion-aria, “That’s Where I Am” lays the framework for the listener, over syncopated and perfectly timed asynchrony. We’re told the story of the lover and Rogers, who met years ago, in a wrong-person, wrong-time situation, until the lover decided they couldn’t “get over the secrets [Rogers] kept”. The song takes me back to the first time I ever heard it: It’s post-chorus harmonies, ringing so much like the church songs I grew up loving, echoing around a small Boston hotel room. I was visiting a place that felt inexplicably like home for the second time, ready to start a life there, uncertain of how it would all play out. I was completely alone for the first time. Hearing the lilt of Rogers’, “It all works out in the end, wherever you go, that’s where I am”, a love story she and I both so desperately needed at the time of it’s creation, lulled me to sleep and calmed my hands, which are too used to gripping the reins of life, into releasing.

“Want Want” is an anthem of desire - the production is larger-than-life, imitating the building and almost all-consuming lust that Rogers surrenders into, with explosive drums and a bass-line so repetitive, the tune will stick to the back of your mind and never let go. The opening line, “You’re better than the man I knew” carries such undoubtable gravitas and offsets the rather kind and dream-like atmosphere of “That’s Where I Am” - Rogers is letting go, surrendering to her own sexual appetite, but completely in control of how the story plays out.

The love story continues over the album’s tracks - “Anywhere with You” is an ode to domestic life, describing scenes from settling into love with someone, from road trips to nights on the couch to playfully bickering over whose music taste is better. “Honey” is a 90s pop-rock tribute that takes us back to the flurry of indecision and waiting, painfully, for the person you want most in the world to want you with the same frightening intensity you hold just for them.

Now, the romantic love story isn’t the only love story on Surrender - Rogers takes special care to immortalize the friends who’ve kept her sane over the pandemic, with the one-liner filled “I’ve Got a Friend” and album closer “Different Kind of Word”, a guitar-led celebration of the woman Rogers has grown into through romantic, platonic, and self-love.

Image: Kelly Jeffrey

Mid-album stunner, “Shatter” is equal parts electric and frenetic - an 80s synth playing over Rogers’ soaring vocals, where her wails are almost breathless, as the words she just *needs* to get out are spilling beyond her lips in record time “I don’t really care if it nearly kills me/I’d give you the world if you asked me to/I could break a glass just to watch it shatter/I’d do anything just to feel with you”. The song houses the most powerful line on the album, where Rogers’ words tumble out in spite of herself, and she admits her fear of the “open wound bleeding between my hips”, a stunning metaphor for an unexpressed anger that never seems to leave her.

“Shatter” ’s rallying cry for us to express ourselves transports me to the time when someone I care about greatly let their emotions tumble out in spite of himself and I found, (as Rogers studied in her newly-minted Masters in Religion in Public Life) the power of spirit within a group of people.

My freshman year of college, I took a general philosophy course, taught by Dr. Francis Brooks, a teacher I had studied under for the past three years in different subjects. Dr. Brooks had kind eyes and salt-and-pepper hair. He was born in New Jersey, but spent too much time in Brooklyn, and the accents from both have stuck under his tongue and seep out into his inflections. He was a bit rough around the edges, able to command a classroom space well, but all at once could soften, and had the most patient ears and compassionate guidance out of anyone at my university.

Dr. Brooks was a born-and-raised Catholic, and a self-described current agnostic. Our class that day was mysticism, a continuation of our religious studies unit. A large portion of our lesson was about St. Teresa of Avila - a famous Catholic mystic. (Me and her are similar in that way - God has revealed itself to be tangible to both of us.) Her apparitions of divinity and incredibly raw spiritual ecstasies guided her life. If I were to ask Rogers, who once posted a tipsy text message to a friend of hers absolutely geeking out about St. Teresa, I’m sure she’d attest and agree to St. Teresa being the epitome of surrendering to a higher power.

Dr. Brooks gets to a slide that is just a photo of him and his mother, sat together in a cafe. He is nineteen and has that expression on his face of forced pleasantry - showing a small smile for a picture, while his mother is radiating from every pore the joy that only a mother knows - the pride in someone just for breathing.

Dr. Brooks’ eyes go somewhere else, and he recounts the story of how he moved to Madrid young, wanting an exploration of thought aside from his Catholic family, and his mother had come to make sure he was settled. The trip to Avila was at her request, to see where St. Teresa had lived and breathed. He says that the trip changed his perspective on his mother, her faith, and who she was, which all catalyzed in the conversation that unfolded that fateful night in the cafe.

It’s here that Dr. Brooks pauses. His words stopped coming out. He looked at the picture, then at the class, then at me. He looks at the picture again, and falls silent. I sit by the board, so I see the tears stream down his face as he puts his fist in front of his mouth and face turns shades of red.

My dear reader, he started sobbing. There, all at once, did this man crumble before us, shedding these glorious tears. He chokes out through the sobbing, “My mother was a mystic. And I had no idea.”

And this class of strangers and passerbys, a hodgepodge of different years, majors, backgrounds…we all cried with him. Whether it was because Dr. Brooks showed an uncharacteristic display of emotions, or hearing a self-labeled agnostic make a confession of truthful, underlying belief, we at once surrendered to the feeling in the room and expressed our emotions.

Image: Kelly Jeffrey

“Horses” is the track on the album most reminiscent of Heard It In A Past Life Rogers, with its acoustic-leaning guitar and intense storytelling. Rogers paints sunset pictures of “wild” horses and her desire to feel their sense of freedom. The refrain in the chorus is a double entendre, where Rogers sings “Oh, won’t you just, give in?” with a sort of desperate pleading of someone who already knows the answer to the question they’re asking is not “if” it’s “when”. That was such a parallel to a relationship in my own world, I had to document it.

Andrew is relatively new to my life - I met him on a trip earlier this year, when we sat across from each other on the midnight Amtrak from Boston to Manhattan, a five hour journey where we made conversation to fight off sleep. He’s around my age, with bright green eyes and permanently tousled blonde hair. We found out that we shared similar tastes in art, music, philosophy, and even have a similar spiritual background, though both of us have taken different paths within it (or so I thought). Both of us were Catholic: I was in the midst of my faith journey (prompted by that fated mysticism lesson), and found a home in the church under mysticism. Andrew, on the other hand, referred to himself as a “recovering Catholic”, presenting himself as a strictly logical person who didn’t quite understand the ease of my (and, as I later found out, his own) spiritual feelings, and would often make jabs at the church and its archaic traditions.

His tune changed when the subject of St. Teresa of Avila came up, and I mentioned the historical theory that her spiritual ecstasies were nothing more than a byproduct of undiagnosed ecstatic epilepsy (something I didn’t believe, but fully thought that he would). His tone softened, his eyes fixed on me, and he said “even if she was epileptic, that does not negate the truth of her words.”

After we got off the train and traded social media, I stepped out of the cart with one thought: Andrew was the most contrarian man I had ever met. But damn, if he doesn’t have the most potent spiritual capacity I have ever seen.

Over his spring break, Andrew, accompanied by his mother, visited Mexico. At his mother’s insistence, and perhaps a bit of personal resolve, he visited the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe. He was kind enough to pray for me there, think of me in the most sacred of personal dimensions. He texted me as he arrived, and a moving conversation came about - Andrew confided in me that, kneeling in that church, he felt something transcendental. He went on to confess that his whole life, he’d been trying to understand his spiritual feelings, but finds himself incapable of making the metaphoric “leap of faith”. Our conversation lasted the rest of the day, bleeding into night, both of us talking through what spirituality and surrender meant to us. I slowly began to deconstruct who I thought Andrew was.

That night, I realized that people aren’t always what I peg them to be, and they don’t have to be. I realized that waiting for someone to “give in” (in my case, waiting for Andrew to surrender to his spiritual feelings without questioning them) was a bit selfish - people need to choose to surrender, and a personal process can not be expedited through will.

Andrew and I learn from each other, share a deep respect for each other, and, whether he’s ready to admit it or not, an innate spiritual sensitivity. And that is enough for me.

Image: Kelly Jeffrey

The truest strength of Surrender lies in its opening track, “Overdrive”. The overlapped, wailing vocals blended with heartbeat-like drums and a lightly-strummed guitar show a slowed down Rogers at her most perceptive. On the second verse, she sings with flourishing intensity: “Oh young were we/But I’m sick of saying/you made me weak at the knees/Because I was a runner/and I could run for miles/gave me a reason/Now I’m in overdrive.”

Rogers uses the opening of an album about love and letting go to examine herself in various forms: her pining, her desperation, and her own self-sabotaging tendencies (for me, the all too familiar “run away before they run away from you”). Rogers sees her past experience with the healthy distance of a rear-view mirror, almost praying (in a St. Teresa-esque way) to be spiritually overtaken, and accepting the “overdrive”.

Image: Kelly Jeffrey

After this exploration of self and place through sound, I sit to ask myself - what is surrender?

For Dr. Brooks, surrender was letting out a mourning he’d kept hidden, which, in turn, made our entire class let out emotions we didn’t know we were hiding.

For Andrew, surrender is an answer to a never-ending question - he’ll decide when and how to let go.

For me, surrender is taking a step into a pitch-black room, not knowing where I’m headed, but confident that something will lead me to exactly where I need to be.

And for Maggie Rogers, Surrender is a record that did exactly what it set out to do - give us all of Rogers’ for us to take, moving us through storytelling and spirit, and eliciting an uncanny sense of Feral Joy.

Listen to Surrender here.

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