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Album of the Week: 'The Past is Still Alive' by Hurray for the Riff Raff

A photo of Alynda Segarra who performs as Hurray for the Riff Raff. They are looking directly at the camera from underneath a cowboy hat. Behind them are two windows with desert outside. "The Past Is Still Alive" is written in white lettering over the photo.
Hurray for the Riff Raff released their new album on Feb. 23, 2024.

'The Past is Still Alive' by Hurray for the Riff Raff is KAXE's Album of the Week for Feb. 4-10, 2024.

With their latest album, Hurray for the Riff cements their place as one of contemporary music's best chroniclers of life on the road.

Alynda Segarra, the creative force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff, left their home in New York City at the age of 17. They would spend the next portion of their life traveling the country hopping freight trains.

The Past is Still Alive takes you deep into Segarra's history, with places they visited and characters they met popping up across the album's 11 songs.

On "Snakeplant (The Past is Still Alive)" the memories come thick and fast, describing camping on a superfund site, drinking "hundred proof" liquor, and stealing food when hungry. In the chorus Segarra sings, "They don't even really know my name, I'm so happy that we escaped from where we came." Despite the hardships you would expect living on the outside of society, there was also the freedom and community they sought when leaving home.

But life is never all sunshine, and Segarra's skill as a songwriter lies in tying vivid depictions of the past into their present life. In the case of "Snakeplant," it revolves around the fentanyl crisis. Many of their friends from that period have passed away and Segarra is fully in the present when they say "test your drugs, remember Narcan."

"Buffalo" is another standout, this time moving between personal anecdotes and big picture questions about humanity. Beginning with a story of a southwestern trip "to the edge of the pueblo," Segarra switches to questions of the human race in the second verse, asking if we will go like the woolly mammoth, dodo, Bachman's warbler, little Mariana's fruit bat, and bridled white-eye.

After these examples of now extinct animals, it is the buffalo that gives Segarra hope, and of course they have story of someone they know making field recordings of a buffalo herd "up north in Minnesota" to bring the story back to the personal.

With such a heavy focus on the stories in the lyrics, Segarra and producer Brad Cook, chose subtlety over force in the sound of the album. Avoiding the synths and drum machines of the previous album LIFE ON EARTH, The Past is Still Alive maintains a rootsy and earthy Americana sound throughout.

Hurray for the Riff Raff's music warrants repeated listening. Every song on the new album is a collection of brief images that come together into a larger whole. They are a window into Segarra's past that also explain their present as a non-binary BIPOC musician.

Tune in to KAXE Monday-Friday (10am, 3pm, 8pm) to hear from our featured Album of the Week.

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Malachy started his radio career at a college radio station, where he played weird music in the middle of the night to possibly no one. On a good night maybe his parents were listening. Nonetheless, he was hooked on public radio and is still doing it today. He joined Northern Community Radio in 2022, where he gets to share his passion for local music as Producer of Centerstage Minnesota, an all Minnesota music show airing Fridays at 2pm.