Most graduation gifts are given to the person that is doing the graduation. All that hard work, sweat, and toil deserve something more than just a certificate. After gaining her master’s degree in Divinity from Havard University, however, American singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers has decided to give the rest of us a graduation present in the form of her second studio album, Surrender.
With Rogers’ debut album, Heard It in a Past Life, garnering the singer a Grammy Nomination for Best New Artist and a number two peak on the Billboard 200, expectations are understandably high for the follow-up. Will Rogers continue on her genre-hopping path, or will she find a stable home in either pop, folk, or indie rock?
Things start modestly on the electronic album opener ‘Overdrive’, but it doesn’t take long before the song rips into a guitar-heavy final sprint. The entirety of Surrender works through the conflict of whether it musically wants to be an explosive Chvrches-style electronic record, a more reserved Julien Baker-style album, or a more ambitious blend of genres and sounds.
Bolstering her pursuit is producer Kid Harpoon, the same svengali who has helped acts like Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, and Florence + the Machine blow out their sonic sounds to massive proportions. The “bigness for bigness sake” is mostly all over Surrender too, with a few notable exceptions.
Tracks like ‘Want Want’ often sound like bad Taylor Swift knockoffs from the late 2010s, but then cuts like ‘Be Cool’ and ‘Symphony’ sound like their on the contemporary cutting edge. A major part of Rogers’ appeal is her ability to transcend traditional genre tags, but that approach to music also makes it difficult to find a solid place to let the album’s songs flow in a natural way. It’s the jack of all trades, master of none kind of problem.
That being said, when Rogers does make solid contact, the results can be engrossing. The mix of acoustic guitars and bloopy synthetic tracks on ‘Begging for Rain’ feels like a uniquely Rogers creation, and the poke at someone who will “work all day to find religion and end up standing in your kitchen / Wondering about the way it’s always been” can’t help but seem directed at herself, knowing what Rogers has been up to over the past few years.
The most unique and enjoyable track on Surrender has to be the loose and goofy ‘I’ve Got a Friend’, a genuinely heartwarming collage of studio chatter, poppy melodies, drunken shenanigans, and shambolic piano runs. It’s pure personality and silliness, right down to its masturbation references, and it’s the moment where Rogers seems to let go of her desire to sweat and strain her way to cover all genres and topics possible.
From there, Rogers gives two more valiant efforts at jumping from style to style on ‘Honey’ and ‘Symphony’ before settling down with the melancholy ‘Different Kind of World’. After a full album of exploration, it’s hard not to feel like the space and subdued atmosphere of ‘Different Kind of World’ is a respite from the bombast that takes over certain corners of the album. Rogers shouldn’t be afraid of narrowing her ambitions because it’s on the more stripped-back material where her focus and songwriting precision really starts to shine through.
On the whole, Surrender is at its best when Rogers doesn’t feel the need to go genre-hopping or world-conquering. It’s the smaller moments that make the album special, and thankfully Surrender has enough small magical moments to make up for the occasional misses. Rogers has a bright future ahead of her, with or without the master’s degree, and that makes Surrender a solid sophomore effort from who I’m assuming will eventually be Dr. Maggie Rogers sometime in the future.