In its pleas for solidarity and acceptance, one of the year’s best albums is also one of the most important and vital
It’s an accidental trilogy, but a trilogy none the less. Back in 2018, Ezra Furman released Transangelic Exodus, an extraordinary, loose ‘concept album’ about a supernatural queer couple on the run from the law. That was followed a year later by Twelve Nudes, a squalling, short punk rock record, which was, to all intents, a protest album about trans rights.
Now, three years later, and living life officially as an out trans woman, Furman has completed the trilogy with All Of Us Flames, an album that may well be her finest one to date. Gone is the feedback and noise of Twelve Nudes, and in its place is a more reflective approach, heavily influenced by the Great American Songwriter approach of the likes of Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen.
There’s a consistent theme running through All Of Us Flames – the need for marginalised, disadvantaged groups to stick together and show solidarity with each other. Therefore, although the naked fury of Twelve Nudes has been toned down, there remains a righteous, focused fury bubbling under the surface. The revenge plot of album centrepiece Lilac And Black sums it up: the “queer girl gang” who “might smile and laugh in a photograph, but you know our pretty heads are haunted”.
It’s an album where the ‘classic rock’ template has been updated. The train motif beloved of Dylan in the late ’70s is revisited on opening track Train Is Coming, which gives hope to the dispossessed – as Furman puts it in the song, “A transfiguration’s coming, a turning in the song, for the brutal static order they’ve depended on so long”. It’s the perfect opening for an album which takes the listener on quite the journey.
There are other classic musical genres explored on All Of Us Flames as well – Dressed In Black not only shares its name with a Shangri-Las song, but also pastiches the Phil Spector-ish Wall Of Sound to boot. Mid-period Springsteen is evoked on the stirring, anthemic Forever In Sunset, while there’s a scratchy, discordant edge to the wonderfully titled Ally Sheedy In The Breakfast Club, an ode to Furman’s favourite film, and explanation of how Sheedy’s character Allison became a formative influence on her.
Most of all, this is an album which demonstrates just what a terrific songwriter Furman has evolved into. I Saw The Truth Undressing is almost poetic in its lyricism, while Book Of Our Names is a stirring, moving plea for acceptance for all marginalised communities. In her own words, “I sing this as a Jew and as a trans woman, knowing well the stakes and consequences of being part of a hated population”.
There’s a soulful edge to Point Me Towards The Real, thanks to a gorgeous horn arrangement by Bright Eyes‘ Nathaniel Walcott, while Poor Girl A Long Way From Heaven is both surreal and funny, detailing a childhood visitation from God. Yet album closer Come Close is the most startling song, a recollection of sexual encounters set to a downbeat piano melody. It’s a beautiful account of lonely people trying to find connection wherever they can.
It’s the perfect ending to an album which could well be one of the best released this year – and, in its pleas for solidarity and acceptance, one of the most important and vital records as well.