Album Review: Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (2017 LP)

2016 was a hard year, globally, politically, environmentally. People made half-hearted jokes last November that at least we’d be getting a lot of good punk music pretty soon – small compensation, honestly. But the genre that flourishes the most under backwards political regimes doesn’t actually seem to be punk – often, what we remember the most, especially out of America, is protest folk. Hurray For The Riff Raff, who’s driving force is Alynda Segarra, have already been tipped as a voice to watch in political folk with their single “The Body Electric” off of 2014’s Small Town Heroes. Unfortunately for the world, but fortunately for folk fans, 2017 is Hurray For The Riff Raff’s time to shine.

On The Navigator, Segarra follows the journeys of the titular character, also known as Navita Milagros Negrón, who shares elements of Segarra’s own backstory – a young, rootless woman of Puerto Rican descent who grew up in New York City. The result is a moving, heartfelt work of indie folk that feels like a journey – a journey home, a journey out.

Segarra has made name for herself already blending razor-sharp, poignant lyrics and poetry with vintage-flavoured, southern gothic folk (kind of like if Florence Welch was born in Louisiana and had the kind of sharp, politically aware lyricism usually associated with conscious rap, maybe). With The Navigator, she’s brought in an eclectic range of sounds and themes, a lot of it sounding inspired by Latin American music from the 1960s and 70s. Thematically, Segarra delves into some upsettingly timely areas – immigration, the border wall, America’s ongoing systematic racial subjugation – as well as more personal themes of feeling disconnected and lost, of growing up in a big city and never putting down roots.

It’s a masterpiece from beginning to end, but the visceral high-point is “Pa’lante”(which Google tells me is Puerto Rican Spanish for something like ‘step forward’ or ‘come forward’), especially the end which functions as a rallying cry and roll call for the under-represented. Other tracks – such as “Fourteen Floors”, “Rican Beach”, or “Living in the City” – are also worth mentioning for their soul and weight, but if I was going to name check the best songs on the album this review would just be a list of fourteen songs with the word “Wow!” written next to all of them. It’s powerful, personal, occasionally wrenching stuff, and it’s beautifully constructed and intricately written as well. The Navigator is the sort of thing people are going to need heading into 2017.

Review Score: 8.9 out of 10.

The Navigator is out now.