Album | Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Past is Still Alive

In a recording studio in Durham, NC just one month shy of losing their father, Aylnda Segarra – the songwriter behind the monicker of Hurray for the Riff Raff – committed to tape the most personal album they’d made to date. Segarra is helped along the way by a host of friends including Conor Oberst and S.G. Goodman helping out on vocals at various points.

It’s also a marked departure from their much acclaimed previous release Life on Earth. Whereas that album focuses on how to survive and maybe thrive in a world deep in crisis, The Past is Still Alive finds the songs rooted in family and community. 

It begins with ‘Alibi’, a song that Segarra says is about her late father, and a song that “exhausted with loving someone so much it hurts”, whilst elsewhere on the album there are love songs dedicated to various real life characters and places, those on the outside of society and the vulnerable.

You have ‘Colossus of Roads’, written in the aftermath of the Club Q shooting, leaving home behind and finding yourself on the edge of nowhere in ‘Snakeplant’ and how you can gain wisdom in the chaos of a short-lived romance in ‘Vetiver’. 

Then there’s ‘Buffalo’, the second track on the album and my current highlight. Written about the mythical Sky Red Hawk it’s a song that bruises with love and how to avoid making the mistakes of the past and ‘Hawkmoon’, where Segarra recounts their experience of meeting their first trans woman, Miss Jonathan. 

It’s a meatier, angrier affair than some of their precious albums, and it’s all the better for it. The pace does slow down to corporate the waltzy ‘The World is Dangerous’, where Oberst appears on a duet dedicated to recovering from broken love.

Segarra is obviously someone with a gift that they need to share with the world. An eye for songwriting about the spectacular and the mundane and making them both sound important and vital in a world that doesn’t always understand them. It’s a voice and a skill that I’m very glad exists.