Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Album Review: Hurray for the Riff Raff - The Past Is Still Alive

Hurray For The Riff Raff
The Past Is Still Alive
**** out of *****

On 2022's pop leaning Life on Earth, Hurray for the Riff Raff (Alynda Segarra) focused on eco-collapse via synths and beats. Their newest, fantastic offering, is The Past Is Still Alive, returns to more roots rock and is a collection of tales ranging from the open spaces of the American west, to hopping trains through the underbelly of the country and the end of the world. 

Segarra has circled back, once again working with Brad Cook (bass guitar, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, synthesizer, vibraphone) who produced the album and a core backing band of Phil Cook (piano, organ, Wurltizer, dobro) and Yan Westerlund (drums) as Segarra looks back on a rambling traveling youth with poetic honesty that cascades out describing adventures, love, pain, and core memories. Musically they have shifted back to the more Americana/roots rock of earlier HftRR albums, putting a pause on recent pop leanings. 

That doesn't mean this record is a safe or an easy album, Segarra writes tales that swirl with lived in experience and fantastical imagery, merging both with a strong songwriters gift of fluidity. The stories bend and weave like a river through a canyon as the world passes allowing the observer/listener can capture the beauty and pain of time moving on. 
The folksie Americana starts with the opening "Alibi" which gives hope to staying alive in the harshness of their hometown NYC, but then it is off into the country as acoustic strums, Mike Mogis pedal steel and birdcalls are flushed out through the extinct animal ode "Buffalo". More traveling through the past and the wilds of this country are experienced on the indie-rock leaning "Hawkmoon" whose focus is the first trans woman Segarra ever met, while "Snakeplant (The Past Is Still Alive)", is a modern day tale of hobo life with drug usage, hopping trains and screwing in the moonlight around horns, loose bass and a nuanced musical backing that raises the tale even higher.    

The record is full of these tunes where Segarra wanders with poetic thoughts as the band easily follows, such as on the sad slow love song "Hourglass", the softly haunting "Colossus of Roads", and the easy country groove of "Vetiver". The record is solid to start but Segarra saves the best for the end with a strong three song closing trifecta that lifts the album to greatness. 

"Dynamo" is catchy as all get out with the ditty showcasing smooth as silk singing and gorgeous guitars, vibraphone and backing vocals from S.G. Goodman while the guests continue on "The World Is Dangerous". The tune is a slow waltzing stroll with Connor Obrest helping out vocally around warbling strings and plinking piano. 

The albums dramatic highpoint is "Ogallala" which uses understated horns and strings to slowly build to huge crescendo that is a blazingly cinematic finish, fitting perfectly into Segarra's masterful talents as an artist. They then end the record with voicemails from Segarra's recently deceased father in a touching manner on "Kiko Forever".

Hurray for the Riff Raff have been on a winning streak with recent albums and The Past Is Still Alive continues that string of success, raising the bar as they return to past glories with new twists and tales. 
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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