Written By: Ethan Griggs
My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com
There’s something truly mischievous about Hurray For The Riff Raff, the project of singer Alynda Segarra. Although she’s spent most of her life in the Bronx, the sounds on her newest album The Navigator are indebted to her native Puerto Rico. Growing up with movies like West Side Story, she found her true passion in music when she discovered Bikini Kill. Segarra’s not a punk rocker, but that innate femininity that is found in those bands is blended into her intimate folk rock and singer/songwriter ballads. Even with the Latin tinge that sprawls about the record, The Navigator stays true to its name in that much of it sounds like the classic American road trip.
A concept album, The Navigator is about Nativa, a young Puerto Rican who, in Segarra’s words, “feels very trapped by her place in society. So she makes a wish to wake up and not recognize anyone around her or anything. And when she wakes up, it’s 40 years later and she’s in the same city, and everyone that she knew and every cultural thing that she knew and every place that she knew is all gone.” Puerto Rica is painted as a certain type of dystopia on the highlight “Rican Beach”, where Segarra’s Nativa laments:
“First they stole our language/Then they stole our names/Then they stole the things that brought us fame/Then they stole our neighbors/And they stole our streets/And they left us to die on Rican Beach.”
Segarra also celebrates simply being alive on much of the album, beginning with “Living In The City”. Somewhat like the Stevie Wonder tune of the same name, Segarra (through Nativa) contemplates the experiences of living and growing up in an urban area with both nostalgia and remorse (first loves and drug abuse are themes of the song). On the album’s penultimate song, “Pa’lante”, she uses her voice to call to arms all the people in her life who have struggled and persisted, and all those who have fallen by the wayside. “Pa’lante” translates to “move forward” in English.
In an album full of genuinely charming surprises, the last track of the record is one of its most unexpected and unique. Like the album opener “Entrance”, “Finale” serves as a bookend to Nativa’s story, but rather than the faux-musical song craft of the opening number, Segarra twines a Latin rhythm into a melodic chant under verses sung in Spanish by a man who is unnamed. Segarra’s sixth record as Hurray For the Riff Raff is her best yet, as it is a celebration of nativity while simultaneously being a genuinely great folk rock record.