Maybe the world was never really a safe place. That was just an illusion we shared before the pandemic. But now, the mask has been ripped off the disguise. We put on new ones, first temporary tissue paper ones from the grocery store, then more sophisticated facial coverings with technical names like NK 95 as we declare the initial ones worthless at protecting us. We live in a sci-fi dystopia where the news is always getting worse. Be safe out there. It’s not safe anywhere.
In other words, the wolves are already at the door. As Alynda Segarra (Hurray for the Riff Raff) sings on “Wolves”, the opening track on her latest album, Life on Earth, it’s not secure at home or anywhere else anymore. The song was written and recorded during the ever-recurring pandemic. Segarra suggests life on the run may be the only answer. Staying behind walls doesn’t work. This is meant metaphorically and literally.
But thankfully, the music doesn’t end after one track. The ten songs that follow explore different survival strategies one can take to endure and thrive during our short Life on Earth. The schemes include a combination of having the right pissed-off punk attitude and an appreciation of one’s place in the natural world. That’s not as simple as it sounds. After all, one could call those involved in the January 6 insurrection iconoclastic rebels, but they certainly weren’t bringing the world to a better place. One may need other human beings to find love and happiness, but as John-Paul Sartre famously noted, “Hell is other people.” Nature itself is slime mold and poison snakes as much as cute baby animals and pretty flowers. COVID itself is a natural phenomenon.
References to the natural world provide the music with its happiest and most uplifting moments. That is especially true of the springy “Rhododendron”, which connects poisonous plants with the high of violence. The more staid title song notes, “Life on Earth is long” as if the words to a church hymn. Segarra’s voice is the element that ties these disparate philosophies together. They somehow express the wonder of a child mixed with the wisdom of experience as part of the same enterprise.
Segarra sings and plays (guitars, synths, drums) on every cut, along with producer Brad Cook (guitars, synths, keys, bass), with the exception of the final track “Kin”, a field recording of chimes hung on an oak tree in a New Orleans city park. Some songs feature snippets of spoken word dialogues and other musical accompaniment, but as a whole, the album offers an intimacy between Segarra and her audience. Segarra is the voice crooning in your ear.
The two most compelling cuts on the album are “Precious Cargo” and “Saga” which address personal pain as the result of totally different circumstances. “Precious Cargo” tells the tale of an immigrant mother’s journey to the United States and the cruelty of ICE treating her like a criminal. “Saga” is the story of being molested but not believed by those in authority. Segarra treats both situations as the nightmares they are. They share the same message: we need to help others. It is our moral obligation as citizens of the world. The emphasis is on human beings aiding each other.
Their list of influences includes a diverse range of folks, such as Native American poet Joy Harjo, Vietnamese American poet Ocean Vuong, activist Adrienne Maree Brown, Congolese musician Jupiter Bokondji and even Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. But it’s the non-humans that Segarra turns to for inspiration. The album is dedicated “to all the creatures, plant life, and energy forms of planet Earth”.