Album Review: Maggie Rogers, ‘Don’t Forget Me’

    Maggie Rogers wrote the songs on Don’t Forget Me in chronological order, but the way they maneuver through time is strange and dizzying. One moment you’re right in the present, about to hit the open road; then, a few songs later, Rogers reminisces about driving upstate, singing indie rock songs, reliving. “When all of the years start to blend in together/ I watch ‘em disappear in your eyes,” she sings on ‘The Kill’, and you can feel the same thing happening in these songs. Rogers slips easily from present to past tense, starts sentences with remember, then lets go of it because the picture is just so vivid: “The wind was in my hair/ And you had that red flush in your cheek,” goes ‘If Now Was Then’, invoking another song about being paralyzed by time. “When I’m onstage, or when I’m making something, I’m not thinking about who I am or what I’m trying to do,” Rogers said in an interview. “Time gets really sinewy. It’s spidery and slow.” It moves like that listening to Don’t Forget Me, yet it also flies by so fast. She’s about to turn 30, but in these songs she’s 18, 22, 28, the years flashing before us.

    Though it hews close to the breezy, anthemic pop-rock structures she embraced with 2022’s Surrender, Rogers made her third album under different circumstances. It was written over five days, three in December 2022 and two the following January. None of the songs were fully formed when she went into the studio with Ian Fitchuk, whose most recent work includes Kacey Musgraves’ Deeper Well, which was also recorded at Electric Lady Studios. They were eager to capture Rogers’ live performance on a record, and when they tried fleshing out the songs, they didn’t hit the same way, so most of the recordings on the album are first takes. In some ways, this makes Don’t Forget Me less ambitious than Surrender or 2019’s Heard It in a Past Life, but it also feels more lived-in and organic. There are still soaring, wide-eyed songs befitting the album’s roadtrip aesthetic, but stripped of the polish of some of her earlier material, the urgency of Rogers’ performance is amplified, as is their ephemerality. ‘Drunk’ is thrilling for its depiction of a self-destructive spiral, but it quickly registers as just a single moment in the story that unfolds; she writes ‘So Sick of Dreaming’ like the narrator has only just reached the point of exhaustion; then, on ‘The Kill’, she’s removed enough to sing, “Remember the days we used to ideate/ About what we would do all our lives.”

    As much as these songs are about memory, Rogers blurs the line between her own and the girl she pictures in them, “a sort of Thelma & Louise character who was leaving home and leaving a relationship, processing out loud.” There’s a carefree playfulness that comes with portraying these imagined scenarios, as heard on the driving ‘Never Going Home’, and it also has the effect of rounding out a journey that might have come off as thin and incoherent otherwise. But Rogers avoids using the narrative device to distance herself from it all; if anything, it unguards her in ways that are difficult to achieve once you’ve made a name for yourself as a confessional songwriter. It’s her own friend we hear on the opener, ‘It Was Coming All Along’, grounding what looks like an existential crisis, and she owns the emotion on every song – especially the ballads, which benefit from the rawer presentation.

    ‘I Still Do’ stands out for its bracing admission of a love she can’t let go of, and you get the sense that enough time has passed for the feeling to be irrational. But it makes sense in the context of Don’t Forget Me, a collection that frames love as maybe our only shot at being remembered, at making any of this matter. In the end, Rogers reminds us, it’s all we have. But it doesn’t have to be grand and dramatic; it can be as simple as “a good lover or someone that’s nice to me,” as she sings on the closing title track. It would be anti-climactic if the want in the song for the love itself rather than for any of it to mean something, but that’s the yearning that comes through, and it’s soft. “So it goes/ Time moves slow/ Until one day you wake up and you realize/ That what you see is what you know,” Rogers sings on ‘All the Same’, and the gentleness in her voice is that of hindsight. Time bends, too, listening to Don’t Forget Me, and it can stir up emotions you didn’t even realize were there before, the magic hiding in plain sight.

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    Maggie Rogers wrote the songs on Don’t Forget Me in chronological order, but the way they maneuver through time is strange and dizzying. One moment you’re right in the present, about to hit the open road; then, a few songs later, Rogers reminisces about driving...Album Review: Maggie Rogers, 'Don't Forget Me'