Ezra Furman – Twelve Nudes

  • Released: 30th August 2019
  • Length: 27:37
  • Label: Bella Union
  • Metacritic Score: 80/100
  • Peak UK Chart Position: 95

What The Critics Said:

“It’s the harshest record he has made. The absence of saxophonist Tim Sandusky means there is no softness to the corners, just jagged edges – but the melodies are still indelible, the hooks still exhilarating. It’s the sound of someone exploding.”

The Guardian

What the Artist Said:

[on releasing a punk album] “I’m peaceful, I carry this peaceful world with me wherever I go. I guess what it really is, is admitting that things feel bad. To me, there’s actually something very hopeful in that. There could be some utility to expressing deep negativity.”

Ezra Furman is an American singer from Chicago who, across the last decade, has received unanimous and consistent praise for his solo work. Originally part of Ezra Furman and The Harpoons, he began releasing individual efforts in 2012 with The Year of No Returning, before making a commerical breakthrough with his third album Perpetual Motion People in 2015, peaking at #23 on the UK Album Chart.

2018 saw the release of the universally acclaimed Transangelic Exodus, which Pitchfork described as ‘his most thematically cohesive work to date’, exploring topics such as sexuality, spirituality and romance. These themes feature throughout his pubic and prvate life. Furman is in constant conflict with traditional gender norms in his social outlook and appearance, describing himself as queer and androgynous, while being raised in a Jewish household and continuing his devotion to faith today.

Before venturing into this album, I’d only ever listened to a handful of Furman songs from Perpetual Motion People. I vaguely remember a sort of pop-rock sound, something more upbeat and tonally light-hearted than Twelve Nudes.

About 10 seconds into Twelve Nudes opener ‘Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone’, the introduction of Furman’s rough and resilient vocals is enough to make you realise that this album is probably not going to be a light-hearted affair. He’s almost rapping an uncontrollable eruption of urgent emotion, begging to the listener that “I should not be alone / The way things are going”.

In the brief 27 minute offering, Furman provides a continuous lyrical undercurrent of self-doubt and anxiety. Poetically speaking, one’s futility and insignificance is explored with beautiful honesty on ‘Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere’, with Furman declaring that “Nobody cares if you’re dying ’til you’re dead”. Meanwhile ‘Trauma’ channels the destructive force of The White Stripes as Furman angrily growls stories of ruinous depression, lamenting our failure to discuss the thoughts which can drive us to total debilitation.

Lead single and album centrpiece ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ exceptionally deconstructs the internal battles Furman, and many others, face in confronting gender identity and fluidity. Central to the album’s appeal is the constant interrogation of the listener’s own perceptions, with Furman’s words sending an open invitation for you to enter his fears, worries and preoccupations. ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ epitomises this questioning expertly. Furman confesses that “I was considering ditching Ezra, and going by Esme / Baby, would you find that so odd?”. It’s a stunning ballad which calls back to rhythmic patterns of late-50s love songs while holding up a mirror to the prejudices we hold towards gendered difference and deviation.

Furman journeys further down avenues of punk as the album progresses. ‘Blown’ is a raucous and heavily-distorted mess (this is a massive compliment, I assure you), while ‘In America’ is a bittersweet tribute to Furman’s homeland. However, topping the lot is album closer ‘What Can You Do But Rock ‘n’ Roll’. A fantastic slab of hedonistic rock, it transports the glorious sounds of Wire and The Damned to the modern era effortlessly. It’s an anthem for those of us who feel irrelevant and powerless, but can’t be bothered to worry anymore – a gigantic ‘Fuck you, and goodbye!’ from an album of triumphant carelessness and delirium.

From repeated listens, I suspect that Furman has been wanting to discard of these thoughts with as much disruption as possible for a while. The album’s length and production suggests a newfound freedom in his lyrics and musical style, focusing less and less on the serenity and romanticism of his thoughts and presenting the frank and ugly truth to the world, and himself.

In all, the album is a complete success. Furman makes the most of his minimalism and simplicity, while fantastically illustrating the complexities of his social, mental and physical battles in a world that seems to have lost its way.

Track Listing:

  1. Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone (2:22)
  2. Evening Prayer aka Justice (2:56)
  3. Transition From Nowhere to Nowhere* (3:11)
  4. Rated R Crusaders (2:17)
  5. Trauma* (3:07)
  6. Thermometer (2:06)
  7. I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend** (3:29)
  8. Blown (0:56)
  9. My Teeth Hurt (2:31)
  10. In America* (2:11)
  11. What Can You Do But Rock ‘n’ Roll* (2:32)

Thanks to Martha for the recommendation.

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