Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman’s seventh studio and fourth solo album, demonstrates the Chicago native’s continual desire to push the boundaries whilst remaining true to his poetic roots. Every word and musical phrase chosen carefully for maximum impact. A loose concept album, this high-protest love story is at times reminiscent of the doomed affair of Romeo & Juliet, and at others of a high stakes Thelma & Louise-esque road trip. It’s “not a concept record,” Furman says, “but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir. A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga.”
The outline of the story runs thus: “I’m in love with an angel, and a government is after us, and we have to leave home.” We follow the unlikely couple as they escape from hospital after surgery in order to stop “wing death”, as the recent emergence of Transangelics has led to nationwide misunderstanding, panic and prejudice. The echoes of the current fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ people are striking, but he is also holding up a mirror to the American Constitution and the right to religious freedom. Furman, a practising Jew, has often alluded to the ways in which his faith has guided his life, but in Transangelic Exodus he is much more transparent. In God Lifts Up The Lowly, with its drummed heartbeats, cello and final verse sung in Hebrew, details of their life on the run are laid bare. Furman prays for a biblical plague to end their persecution. “I’ve looked deep into this human body and I know that I carry a power,” he sings, attempting to lead his angel to safety in the manner of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
Album opener Suck The Blood From My Wound is a visceral scene setter, a battle cry to the innocent, persecuted, oppressed and threatened. Furman’s lyrics have a surgical precision, each word slicing and stabbing at the narrative until you can feel the pain, terror and determination to survive in this new world. It closes with him screeching Mercutio’s famous lines from Romeo & Juliet – “a plague on both your houses” – judging those that have let it come to this. Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 At Goodwill focuses on Furman’s personal journey as he moved out of the shadows into the open as a gender non-conforming person. He talks of spotting a dress in a goodwill shop and not being able to stop looking at it, wanting it, needing it to be truly himself; practising make-up, dealing with people’s judgements and finding acceptance and comfort within the tenets of his religion.
Love You So Bad, released as a single at the end of 2017, is the bridge between past and the present Furman. It’s a classic three chord love song complete with shoo-wops and wah-wahs that wouldn’t have been out of place on 2015’s Perpetual Motion People. But the cello adds a new thrill. It’s a glorious three and half minutes on the innocence, pain and joy of teenage love, and how it shapes your life. Psalm 151 opens with Furman singing angelically. It’s such a disconcerting change of pace and tone you almost fall for the simplicity and sweetness, but it darkens quickly into absolute despair. Angels are backed into a corner, close to giving up, feathers are falling out, there’s a broken halo, a discarded harp, and they’re just waiting for it all to be over. Yet there is no fear, just faith enough to keep going.
Transangelic Exodus was produced, and for the most part recorded at long time producer and bandmate Tim Sandusky’s Ballistico Studios. Although the markers and milestones of Furman’s musical education remain – the music here is rooted in garage punk and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll – there is an obvious determination to push boundaries and develop in a new direction. Trusted backing band and collaborators The Boyfriends have been restyled and renamed The Visions, surely the biggest indicator that they’re doing things differently this time around. Percussion has been built up, and bassist Jorgen Jorgensen taught himself the cello – it’s used to maximise a sense of paranoia in a number of tracks. A clarinet haunts in Come Here, Getaway From Me, a song that made a number of appearances during Furman’s almost constant touring of 2015 and 2016. But this version has been slowed right down, transformed into something dark and sinister as Furman struggles to find his place in the world and, more than that, to feel safe in it. Driven by frantic drum beats, No Place is pure poetry, in which Furman concocts a plan to escape and find a new place to call home with his angel: “I need a pile of rubble, to call my domicile, far from the violent rabble, and could I interest you to come along?”
Everything about this album shows Furman pushing forward and fighting for change, musically, socially and politically. He’s taken a musical colouring book and just gone wild, experimenting, colouring outside the lines. The shapes are there, recognisable, comforting, but the finished picture is uniquely Ezra Furman. Transangelic Exodus is a beautiful, dark, twisted, painful and yet hopeful tale.