Hurray for the Riff Raff 2024
Photo: Tommy Kha / Shorefire Media

Hurray for the Riff Raff Finds ‘The Past Is Still Alive’

Hurray for the Riff understands that we are all part of the same world and share the same past. The past may be alive, but that doesn’t make us zombies.

The Past Is Still Alive
Hurray for the Riff Raff
23 February 2024

William Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The Southern author meant that what happened isn’t over or forgotten in our hearts and memories. Our history still lives with us and informs our current existence and behaviors. Hurray for the Riff Raff‘s Alynda Segarra has titled their latest album, The Past Is Still Alive, with similar intent. They explicitly cite the line on two different songs: “Snake Plant “(with the subtitle “The Past Is Still Alive”) and “Vetiver”.

“Snake Plant” interweaves memories of Segarra’s childhood with recollections of a recent time when they lived in poverty with a ragtag bunch on a garbage island superfund site. The lessons they learned as a child inform how they once saw and still see themselves. The Past Is Still Alive was recorded a month after the death of their father. “I only wanted ever to be a good daughter,” they sing as they free associate remembrances. The song’s title points to their strength. The snake plant is a hardy species that needs little care to live and grow. It can survive and mature in extreme conditions. Segarra’s biography attests to this phenomenon as well.

This toughness is true of vetiver grass as well, which also happens to be a sweet-smelling perennial with a strong aroma. The song of that name celebrates the durable facts of life as well. “The root of me lives in the ballast,” Hurray for the Riff Raff poetically exclaims as they celebrate the stones and rocks of their environment. The past is still alive in these items as well. They don’t change in any fundamental way. The grass “Vetiver” is a constant presence that serves as a sweet reminder like the current memory of a previous love affair. As the old commercial used to say, the perfume stays on their mind.

Segerra wrote all the songs on The Past Is Still Alive. They share a penchant for the ephemeral and their place in the present, even when their presence is absent: like the “Buffalo” that used to dominate the landscape, the “Hawkmoon” that rose only never to appear again, and the “Hourglass” that shows how time disappears. Each of these aforementioned tracks offers a narrative with a moral about change. They also share a counter-story that celebrates freedom. The past may always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we are bound to our mistakes or missteps.

The past may be alive, but that doesn’t mean one can’t change. Hurray for the Riff Raff knowingly croons that they won’t be anyone’s “Alibi” for self-inflected misbehavior. Segerra vocalizes in a quiet but confident voice. They sing lead on every track, often without a harmony vocalist other than them. Segarra plays lead acoustic guitar on every song, usually accompanied by a small combo of players, including their producer Brad Cook on bass, Phil Cook on piano and organ, and Yan Westerlund on drums and tambourine. The music is deceptively complex in its simplicity. The individual tracks always carry us to places we didn’t know we were heading.

Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Walt Whitmanian vision suggests that they speak for everyone when they sing of themselves. Their songs may be peopled with the homeless and dispossessed, the sexually transgressive and economically dispossessed, immigrants, and the native-born. Segarra understands that we are all part of the same world and share the same past. The past may be alive, but that doesn’t make us zombies. We have always been this way.

RATING 9 / 10