Hurray For The Riff Raff The Past Is Still Alive Review: A defiant reckoning with the past, future and present

Alynda Segarra gracefully faces up to the old times and the end days on ninth Hurray For The Riff Raff album.

Hurray For The Riff Raff

by Victoria Segal |
Updated on

Hurray For The Riff Raff

The Past Is Still Alive



BACHMAN’S WARBLER; the Mariana fruit bat; the bridled white-eye, the “dear dodo”: on Buffalo, a lovely country lament on Hurray For The Riff Raff ’s ninth album, Alynda Segarra lists just a few bright and beautiful things driven towards total extinction. It’s not just glowing colours and tiny wings vanishing, though: written after Segarra’s father died, The Past Is Still Alive is a record that also confronts the idea of human obliteration, whether as a species or as individuals. “I used to think I was born into the wrong generation,” sings Segarra on Ogallala, a track that shares an apocalyptic roar with Phoebe BridgersI Know The End, “but now I know I made it right on time/To watch the world burn.”

If The Past Is Still Alive is resigned, however, it’s by no means supine. It’s an act of fierce witness bearing, part memory box, part salute into a setting sun. The singer left their New York home aged 17, jumping freight trains, living rough, playing on street corners and in squats. They know what it takes to push up through the concrete and wire of a hostile environment, and as with 2022 album Life On Earth, or 2017 song Pa’Lante, they present it with tender but unsentimental empathy.

“I see your track marks poking through your hoodie sleeve,” Segarra sings on the railway sway of Alibi, a song about trying to lure an addict back to the living world, hope and experience duking it out in the gorgeously conversational vocals. New Orleans walk on the wild side Hawkmoon mentions driving through the Big Easy with “Miss Jonathan”, a “dildo waving on her car antenna”; Snakeplant (The Past Is Still Alive) piles up memories of “fucking in the moonlight” on “garbage island”, of shoplif ting and Fentanyl: “Test your dr ugs/ Remember Narcan.” There’s a joy here, but also an acute awareness of tragedy, Bruce Springsteen with a stick-and-poke tattoo and a Food Not Bombs sticker on their army surplus. “Say goodbye to America, I want to see it dissolve,” Segarra sings on Colossus Of Roads, a song for those born to run right off the edges. Heavy though it is, the songwriting remains remarkably light and agile. The band – including Meg Duffy of Hand Habits – follow Segarra as they find new melodic cut-throughs, ducking cross-country through fences and branches. Buffalo’s overlapping phrasing is a whisper of consolation, while Matt Douglas’s saxophone on Ogallala and Snakeplant (The Past Is Still Alive) suggests an unextinguishable spark of mischief, a refusal to stoop before despair.

For all its outsider watchfulness, though, The Past Is Still Alive can’t quite shake an old-fashioned romanticism about the world and its beauty, a sense that it needs preserving. “You know that scene at the end of Titanic?” Segarra sings on Ogallala. “Well, I’m the one still playing on the deck.” It feels lucky to have them on board.

The Past Is Still Alive is out 23 March on Nonesuch. You can order a copy here: Amazon/Rough Trade

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