Your Choice Way

Hurray for the Riff Raff - Life on Earth Music Album Reviews

Hurray for the Riff Raff - Life on Earth Music Album Reviews
Alynda Segarra’s powerful eighth album exudes a glorious irreverence. Their self-described “nature punk” songs are both intimate and immense, and they’ve never sounded more honest or self-possessed.

Fifteen years ago, Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff chose their band name to celebrate outsiders who threatened the status quo: “the riff raff” being “the weirdos and the poets,” they once said, “the rebellious women and the activists” whom society disregarded. These were the people who kept Segarra going as they carved an itinerant path from their fractured Bronx upbringing to their longtime home in New Orleans, from the Lower East Side hardcore matinees of their youth to their escape hopping freight trains. Their voice traveled, too, growing from the forthright grace of Gillian Welch through the brash fortitude of Bruce Springsteen or Joe Strummer: a person talking straight to you. Where Segarra invoked Whitmanian transcendence on 2014’s “The Body Electric”—a feminist indictment of the murder-ballad tradition from their Americana breakout, Small Town Heroes—they directly triangulated the past, present, and future on their 2017 masterpiece, the rallying cry “Pa’lante.”

In that anthem describing the immigrant experience in America, Segarra ferociously called out to those “who had to hide,” who “lost their pride,” to “all who came before,” carrying the fight forward. The song is cracked open, traversing a continuum of historical struggle that is ongoing. Watch the 2021 documentary Takeover—about the NYC chapter of Puerto Rican revolutionary coalition the Young Lords and how they occupied the South Bronx’s Lennox Hospital in 1970, seizing it as “The People’s Hospital”—and when “Pa’lante” soundtracks its final moments you will see not only what art is capable of but what it is for.

Segarra’s eighth album is titled Life on Earth, seeming to ask, by its final notes: How will you spend yours? They transform their sound with glowing synthesizers and sunstruck hooks to answer this call. Segarra has made powerful records in the past by working within vernacular traditions, or constructing autofictive characters and concepts, like on 2017’s The Navigator, where they sought to reclaim their Puerto Rican identity. But Segarra has never sounded more honest or self-possessed than on Life on Earth. They have found a fresh collaborator in indie-rock producer Brad Cook (Waxahatchee, Bon Iver) and opened a new chapter. Dressed like a Fabulous Stain on the album’s cover—the inside typography evoking anarcho legends Crass and reading “BLESS ALL BEINGS RUNNING FOR THEIR LIVES”—Segarra has, in some sense, circled back to the raw openness of their earliest homespun releases. They once identified as a folk singer, but their sound now exudes a glorious irreverence, maybe a way of saying that old traditions, or at least their present iterations, cannot serve the current crises, which these songs consistently take on.

In these self-described “nature punk” songs, Segarra isn’t writing about the natural world so much as writing through it. They use their new sonic tools to channel the plant wisdom of the 2017 activist text (and stated influence) Emergent Strategy, namely the urgency of seeing all life as intertwined, and forming networks of solidarity by favoring “critical connections,” as author adrienne maree brown writes, over “critical mass.” Their biomimicry also often simply rocks. Segarra names the elements—the air and moon, flora and water, bees and butterflies—and channels their unruly beauty into the songs’ unvarnished surfaces and sing-shouting abandon. Beyond the open strums of “Rhododendron,” Segarra collages images of “night-blooming jasmine,” “naked boys,” and a “police barricade,” the kind of soul-steadying tune that can validate and alleviate pain in a single bar. “Everything I had is gone,” they sing. “I don’t know what it’d take to carry on.” Songs about flowers are still songs about survival in Segarra’s world.

Listening to Segarra’s stories, connections come alive, honoring another tenet of Emergent Strategy: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” Accordingly, Segarra threads Life on Earth with songs of self-reckoning, where electronics quake like new life about to spring. “Trying to avoid running into my ex on Broadway,” they sing on the brooding, skyscraping “Pierced Arrows,” knowing it takes work to not look back. On the lonesome “Nightqueen,” they sing of betraying their own heart in favor of an “addiction to freedom,” which proves futile. When they insist, over the slinking beat of “Jupiter’s Dance,” that they “can’t start a fire without my heart”—the restless spirit of Springsteen never too far off—it seems to say: access to one’s own emotions is the ultimate spark.

Life on Earth’s first track finds wolves appearing at the front door of an unsafe home. “You got to run, babe/You know how to run,” Segarra sings, a line inspired by their own youth that could also serve as an epigraph to their continued narration of the immigrant experience in America, particularly dehumanization at the hands of ICE. On the devastating title track, Segarra depicts a “girl in a cage with the moon in her eye,” who sings, “Life on Earth is long,” which is to say that it is hard; the benevolent world of this ballad makes it almost bearable. The lightly rapped “Precious Cargo” is a stark reminder that it was none other than Woody Guthrie who set Segarra on their train-hopping artistic path a decade and a half ago. Over a cool trip-hop beat, the song shares the story of a man swimming across a river with his children, of a border crossed, a family torn apart; of shivering on a cold jail floor with a foil blanket and calling out to Allah. In 2019, Segarra personally visited ICE facilities in Louisiana with Freedom for Immigrants, and worked to free two men from these inhumane jails. At the end of the song, as Segarra calls out the names of Southern towns with ICE centers, their words give way to those of one of the detained men: “Immigrants are suffering,” he says. “This song is my life.” “Precious Cargo” makes witnesses of us all.

“I am asking you to, as bell hooks says, FALL IN LOVE WITH JUSTICE,” Segarra wrote in a searing open letter to the folk community in 2015. Life on Earth exudes a prayer-like love for humanity, as Segarra’s depiction of resilience extends to memories sparked by “a terrible news week” on the penultimate “Saga.” “I was a kid, I was lonely,” they sing. “He pushed me down on the concrete/Oh, I can’t speak.” Trauma, once lodged, works to silence us from within, the song suggests; breaking free is a triumph, emboldening each note of “Saga.” That’s especially true of its final moments, where Segarra incants, heartbreakingly: “Nobody believed me.” “I’ll just make it through this week,” they sing, “And I’ll get out alive.” Segarra follows in the lineage of Fiona Apple, Sharon Van Etten, and other modern songwriters who have processed abusive relationships in daring songs. The brassy conviction and even biting humor of “Saga,” and Life on Earth, is proof of regaining control.

Segarra, who is 34, has said they spent much of their 20s feeling like they were born in the wrong era, wishing and demanding more of folk musicians who too often remained silent on issues, particularly racial injustice. But within our seasons of uprising, and an increasingly inclusive and critical culture, Segarra has found more to relate to. Where The Navigator’s “Pa’lante” included a 1969 recording of the late poet Pedro Pietri’s Nuyorican epic “Puerto Rican Obituary,” Life on Earth samples the voice of a contemporary, poet Ocean Vuong, whose books and interviews form treasured survival guides, and whose work also narrates the immigrant struggle in the United States. Appearing midway through “Nightqueen,” Vuong’s words, originally recorded for the “On Being” podcast, give Life on Earth its title; when his tearful voice enters the frame, it’s chilling. “As a species, as life on Earth, we’ve been dying for millennia,” Vuong says. “But I don’t think energy dies. It just transforms.” Vuong’s voice glides in over droning synths and the gentle buzz of horns, and feels as adaptive and generative as the plant life that inspires Segarra. This is yet another connection, another way forward.

Among its powers, topical music can make us feel with unforgettable intensity what we already essentially know about the time in which we live, reorganizing our priorities, clarifying the questions we ask of the world and ourselves. Life on Earth leaves questions lingering inside of you. Segarra’s melodies, some so beautiful that they seem to have existed forever, make them stay.

Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Hurray for the Riff Raff - Life on Earth Music Album Reviews Hurray for the Riff Raff - Life on Earth Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, February 18, 2022 Rating: 5

0 comments:

Post a Comment