The Navigator is the sixth studio album in Hurray for the Riff Raff’s repetoir and it is apparent that in their experience, they have learned how to effectively communicate a message. Emotionally, culturally and politically charged, the band holds nothing back with their lyrics. However, the instrumentals seem strategically restrained to bring their themes to the forground; this includes calling on subtle latin percussion and folk acoustics to generate an overall feeling of nostalgia for the album.
The album makes a statement right off the bat with the appropriately named track “Entrance;” a throwback to classic quartet acapella. The song is an ode to the elusive navigator, who is the subject of the album. Quickly, we time travel to modern urban streets in the upbeat “Livin in the city.” Easy listening does not begin to do this album justice, especially in this track. Despite the narrator repeating that “It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard,” one can’t help but generate a romanticized image of an artist struggling to find inspiration in the bustling urban setting around her. This song is just a taste of the soft anguish expressed by Alynda Segarra, lead singer and song-writer of the band.
The anguish quickly turns into altercation in “Hungry Ghost.” Here, the narrator takes matters into her own hands as she realizes that the only one she can rely on is herself. She wants recognition but those who she wanted to help her “can’t even pick [her] out of the croud.” This is apparently a difficult lesson learned, but it seems to have created a stronger individual in the process, no matter how invisible.
Coming out of the previous track, inspired and “ready for the world,” the following tracks describe a somewhat distraught young soul, finding her way through the ghosts of the past to break into the opportunities held in the future. The instrumentals perfectly marry with the lyrics. Especially the acoustic guitar which gives the songs just enough of a country song to ensue melancholly but not pushing it over the edge of melodrama (“Life to Save”, “Halfway There”).
“Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” holds one of the most impactful lines : “I’ve been called allegedly free” and ends on a tribal note with chanting and tam tams drifting off in the background. The song transitions into the album’s title track. A dark, latin inspired sound accompanies the origin story of the elusive Navigator, demanding to know “where will all [her] people go?” acting as an apparent advocate for her extended family.
The upbeat, soft funk track “Rican Beach” is one of the album’s standouts. Evidently, the song is politically charged by current events as evidenced by lyrics like “Build a wall to keep them out.” Moreover, she describes the silencing of artists making the transition easier for these negatively portrayed figure heads. If there was any doubt that this was personal, the delivery and the lyrics of this intense track make it crystal clear. The vocal is incredibly contrasted by the mellow tone of the preceding portion of the album.
Next, “Forteen Floors” and “Settle” are the lamentings of an apartment bound artist lacking action, but still reminiscing and preparing for what is coming after “how[ever] long [she’s] gonna settle.” There is a quick 180 degree turn at “Pa’lante:” “I just want to fall in line, and do my time, and be something.” The choices of descriptors used are harsh to say the least. Enhanced by slamming piano chords and drum line, the song almost feels as though it’s being sung by polarizing personalities. The chorus is a cry after a sermon given about the sacrifices and mistreatment of Puerto Ricans. Yelling “Pa’Lante!” (meaning go forward) to all those who came before and paved the way for the narrating navigator’s travels; you can hear the gut wrenching despair and inspriation in Segerra’s voice.
The final note the album brings it full circle on “Finale.” The song goes back to the old sounding recording quality of the first track, but calls directly on spanish culture and language. With an elusion to a sombre “Guanta La Mela,” Segerra gives her final salute to the brave navigators described throughout her lyrics. After listening to the album, the overwhelming feeling is one of evolution within the narrator, meanwhile, creating a journey for the listener as well. The Navigator leaves you both satisfied and hungry for more, boading well for the bands innevitable next album.
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