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“LIFE ON EARTH”: Hooray for the Riff Raff’s Nature-punk Recipe for Survival

By Hank Adams

Like many artists, Alynda Sagarra, aka Hurray for the Riff Raff, experienced the pandemic as a time in between, a time of anxious stillness. After a life spent running – leaving home at 17 to hop trains and hitchhike across the country – Sagarra struggled with that stillness, that anxiety, and the trauma that was March 2020 (and beyond).

Now a New Orleanian, Sagarra cites the nature they began to tune into in and around their home in the Seventh Ward as inspiration for their eighth full-length album, LIFE ON EARTH (released February 18th on Nonesuch, and yes, all uppercase – for the album title and most of the songs on it).

Sagarra calls this album “survival music for the end times,” but it’s not just about survival. Like the natural world, forever pushing up through the sidewalks of humanity, it’s about “learning how to thrive.” Let’s call that the gentle ferociousness of seeds and vines taking root. And once you spot it, you find LIFE ON EARTH filled with it.

“WOLVES” establishes the warmly atmospheric feel that pervades every song on the album. Careful, quiet layers blend futuristic sounds with soft, floating harmonies. So many songs on this album pair those gentle sounds with tough lyrics, the hard with the hopeful. “POINTED AT THE SUN,” “PRECIOUS CARGO,” “ROSEMARY TEARS,” “JUPITER’S DANCE,” “LIFE ON EARTH” and “nightqueen” use the layering of sounds and the repetition of lyrics to slowly build a dense and lovely tangle of sound and experience. Perfectly mimicking the chaotic wonder of a wild thicket, these songs grow slow, and sprawl as they bloom. 


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Sagarra’s term “nature punk” fits “LIFE ON EARTH” perfectly. The organic and the electronic create strange new harmonies in a world thoroughly confused about where it is, and where it’s going. There is a sense of floating, of a seed caught by the wind and carried to some strange new land. Yet there is also hope, delivered at the end of the album with a soft deft touch in the final piece, “KIN.” A brief vignette of wind and birdsong – natural sounds – blending with the softness of wind chimes standing in as an optimistic metaphor for the voice of humanity.

“LIFE ON EARTH” creates a positive if realistic vision of the future, one where the organic and inorganic can blend and grow together – if only they can figure out how.

Hank Adams is a writer and photographer, country music fan from the way back, and an overalls enthusiast. They are based in Central Pennsylvania.