Search The Line of Best Fit
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Hurray For The Riff Raff breaks out the stadium-ready choruses for Life on Earth


Release date: 18 February 2022
Riff raff life on earth art
16 February 2022, 20:37 Written by Liam Inscoe-Jones
As Hurray for the Riff Raff, Alynda Segarra is an American storyteller in a classic, and an entirely new, mould.

Born in the Bronx and raised by their Puerto Rican aunt and uncle, they ran away as a teenager and spent years hopping freight trains across the country – a life which would sound like a beatnik cliche if it wasn’t precisely what they did. In the mid-2000s they found a home in the Dead Man Street Orchestra, a hobo-band where they honed their musicality until they broke out in 2008 as Hurray for the Riff Raff, writer of vintage American character songs in the Woodie Guthrie, Neil Young vein.

Despite this, Segarra has long lost patience with three-chord folk songs. 2017’s The Navigator brought in electric guitars and a stage-show grandeur, and LIFE ON EARTH deepens that sound with patched drums and stadium-ready choruses. Segarra’s writing has sharpened over time too. Much has been made of this release being a ‘nature punk’ album, and while there are certainly references to the cosmos and the ecology, people remain at the core of their music.

Segarra reaches, with stunning empathy, into the lives of people struggling with specific or universal hardships throughout and yet, crucially, these songs would be killer without the stories at the heart of them. A resonant story does not a good song make. Sure, "Pointed at the Sun" brilliantly captures the longing of a person struggling to overcome their struggles with their art, but it does so with one hell of a chorus, ripe for a round of shower-karaoke. "Precious Cargo" is a nod towards one of the influences Segarra named in the making of LIFE ON EARTH – reggaeton titan Bad Bunny - but it’s also a vivid tale of two brothers kept in cages at an I.C.E. camp, the protagonist confessing “me no never seen no handcuffs until I get to the USA”.

The Navigator saw a marked level-up in Segarra’s songcraft and, for the second LP running, it’s clear that they now possess a rare skill: the ability to sharply sketch a complex life containing loss, resilience and resistance in a single song; in a single chorus sometimes. The breakout single from that album - "Pa'lante" - is now five years old, but it’s central mantra: “do your best / but fuck the rest, be something” still resonates half a decade later.

The same may be true of this album’s masterpiece, "Saga", a song of a similar scale inspired by the 2018 Christine Blasey-Ford hearings. It’s sung through the communal experience of the victims of sexual abuse, of repressed sexualities and oppressed ethnicities, but, with just a single phrase, Segarra reminds that the traumas which make names like theirs famous are just a single event in that person’s life. Delivered as if they’re pleading with the whole world they sing an unheard truth: “I don’t want this to be / the saga of my life”.

In tunes like these, Segarra’s voice remains one of the central appeals of their music. Deep and trembling, the patient piano ballad "Life on Earth" succeeds on the strength of it. “Life on Earth is long”, they sigh across the length of the track. Whether they’re referring to those whose time here is defined by hardship, or of the natural world which will press on long after they’re gone, is left to the listener’s imagination. Segerra’s intention of writing protest music which transcends three-chord folk cliches continues to be realised through their music. The dreams of the characters they capture in song? For them, and for us, things are left on a decidedly less assured note.

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