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Ezra Furman - Transangelic Exodus (Album Review)

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Road songs are part of the fabric of rock ‘n’ roll. From the earliest greaser anthems through the open roads of west coast pop and manic rockabilly chase scenes, they’ve always been there. On ‘Transangelic Exodus’, Ezra Furman offers a new twist on the style, keeping both the wings and the wheels as he soundtracks “a personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga”.

There is an overarching narrative here - Furman and his lover, the angel of the title, are on the run from the government under a cloud of incipient fascism - but the songs are vignettes and postcards, not chapters from a rigid story. Furman’s lyrics are witty, suspicious and delivered with equal helpings of conviction and bullshitter’s bravado, creating a Technicolor world that has the listener guessing throughout.

Furman keeps the details coming - red Camaros, car wash waiting rooms in Pasadena, cliff roads that might signal a fiery, iconic death, bloody surgery scars on the angel’s wings - but wisely avoids becoming wrapped up in what a stereotypical road song entails.

There are no empty references to tops being down or pedals to metal - and no songs that sag into flabby dad rock.

The sleeve image - Furman’s frightened eyes checking the rear-view mirror - frames the record’s atmosphere. As they eat up the miles, freedom always feels like it’s around the next bend, and then the next one: the key is to keep moving and not to let the bastards win. To be together, to escape together, is what matters. The duo are beset on all sides; queer outlaws in a world that would do them harm without a second thought. “I don’t mind if I lose my limbs or die,” Furman sings on Driving Down to L.A., as the car hugs the cliff road. “I’ve built a home inside his eyes and I ain’t leaving.”  

Furman leans heavily on a metallic, roughhousing slate of sounds. Kanye West’s vicious, industrial ‘Yeezus’ is an acknowledged influence on its distorted, outsized percussion, but there are other flourishes that ramp up the tension: lone cellos, isolated yells. On No Place a bugle - a traditional instrument in uncharted lands - stabs and swirls as Furman’s bleak words careen from his mouth. “From the wrong road, miles from no place, from the road I call and call,” he sings. “This whole world is no place.”

Underpinning everything is Furman’s grasp of heartland rock songwriting. Cutting through each left-field production choice, or unusual arrangement, are rich choruses and a vocal performance that crosses throaty shouts with tender, vulnerable asides. And Furman’s contention that this isn’t a concept record is propped up by how well these songs work as self-contained pieces.

Suck The Blood From My Wound, the opener, is every inch the strutting rocker: it doesn’t need a storyline to make its point. The same is true for the fabulous Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill and the giddy Beach Boys-isms of the closer, I Lost My Innocence (to a boy named Vincent, as the song tells us). “A new existence soon found me,” Furman sings. All three have their place in the patchwork, but the final song feels like an optimistic full stop that could have been left out had a happy (a relative term in this instance) ending not fit the script. It’s an interesting inclusion given the pointed anxiety that precedes it, but one that feels justified.

There are moments, though, where you wonder what might have been. ‘Transangelic Exodus’ misses a couple of beats that a more straightforward record might not have. In its determination to skip roads well travelled, some momentum is sacrificed at the midway point with the out-of-step The Great Unknown and Compulsive Liar. These are are good-to-great songs but, to borrow one of the clichés that Furman would cast aside, they feel like a dab on the brakes even if they don’t put the whole thing into a skid.

It doesn’t last long. The second half of the record fizzes and pops with energy, rounding out a journey that is enlightening and more than a little terrifying. This is an album that has the capacity to split Furman devotees who prized the organic garage-rock sounds of his early work, but it shouldn’t. ‘Transangelic Exodus’ feels like another beginning.

Ezra Furman Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed May 23 2018 - LONDON O2 Academy Brixton
Thu May 24 2018 - BRISTOL Colston Hall
Sun May 27 2018 - MANCHESTER Albert Hall
Mon May 28 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Tue May 29 2018 - DUBLIN Tivoli Theatre

Click here to compare & buy Ezra Furman Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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