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Ezra Furman - All of Us Flames

  by Steev Burgess

published: 26 / 11 / 2022

Ezra Furman - All of Us Flames
Label: Bella Union
Format: CD


Intelligent and heartfelt sixth solo album from poetic American singer-songwriter Ezra Furman

I’m a recent convert to the work of Ezra Furman, part due to the insistence of a singer Gabi Garbutt, who I interviewed for this magazine, saying that I must sit down and really listen to Ezra's brilliant lyrics and partly due to my seeing some excellent videos. This album is the last third of a trilogy, but you can dive straight into this record - as each song stands alone too. ‘Train Comes Through’ comes in part from the hobo railyard tradition but more so from the shipyard of the messianic visions of the downtrodden and victimised, dreaming of turning the tables on their oppressors. Think of Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Pirate Jenny’, Bob Dylan’s ‘When the Ship Comes in’ and “Times They Are A Changing” and you’re at the right station for this journey. “A transfiguration’s coming, a turning in the song/For the brutal static order they’ve depended on so long” sings Furman “….This train will carry gamblers, it’ll carry us midnight ramblers too?A broken heart’s your ticket so be ready when the train comes through.” There’s a brooding sense of change in the air, the rumble of an unstoppable revolutionary train on the move. The album continues with ‘Throne’ where Nathaniel Walcott’s brass section, also known from their work with Bright Eyes (surely an influence on Furman) are introduced to the record. The chorus of the song is based on Vaclav Havel’s ‘Power of the Powerless” as the song’s character draws upon the observation of others to throw light on her own plight, as Ezra does perhaps, with the influence of great writers like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and in the lyrics that illuminate a dark, claustrophobic atmosphere of smudged sounds where the singer seems to “stand in the half-light at the edge of the stage" until eventually “the queen in the shadows, steps into the sun.”. The third track ‘Dressed in Black’ pays tribute in its style and composition to the early 1960's girl band the Shangri-La's, who have a different song of the same name. Backing singers Debbie and Shannon are added to the mix and the whole feel is a beautifully dirtied up version of the American girl band's sound, who were known as the myrmidons of melancholy, for their melodramatic tales of misunderstood youth, teenage love and forbidden affairs, which on this homage, has the sound of a slightly warped, beat-up jukebox record playing in an all-night diner under flickering neon. ‘Forever in Sunset’ comes next, a car journey to the recent past, which is always a strange place, made more so by the Covid pandemic and a world entering "survival mode". Ezra's vocals reach fever pitch in a Conor Oberst style outburst, articulating the feeling of "living in sunset but not quite done yet" with urgency, before settling down into the warmth of another's arms, heading north to an uncertain future. ‘Book of Our Names’ draws upon Furman's Jewish tradition, the Book of Exodus firmly in mind and the singer craving "a book of our names, none of them missing, not quite the same, none of us ashes, all of us flames" enshrining the names of individuals murdered for being Jewish, Trans or other by any hyper-capitalist police state. ‘Point Me towards the Real" is a quieter, tender tale of a fragile character being collected from a psychiatric hospital by a friend who wonders where the person at the centre of the song might wish to go and who they might see in the outside world. They move through the evening where "we ride along through the silent dusk while the moon gets drunk and high/It's a cold white stone up in Heaven alone, and I've seen it's darker side". This story of recovery is sung quietly to a soundtrack reminiscent of late Leonard Cohen, built perhaps around the pre-set beats of a keyboard before erupting in the chorus. ‘Lilac and Black’ has the makings of an anthem, and is set against the turbulent American Summer of 2020, when many otherwise peaceful people, were said by Ezra to be considering the options of violence to achieve social change. The notion and music make for a febrile atmosphere, where Ezra's girl gang sporting Lilac and Black have "death stares to ward off enemies, and amulets to ward off fear" fully realising as they take up the fight of Trans people in a still part hostile world "we might not make it back." . ‘Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club’ is about Ezra recognising something of herself in actress Sheedy's character Alison in an 80's film of the same title. Ezra mourns the teenage girl she didn't get to be, and relates to the movie in which the awkward girl endures an eight hour detention session, where through the course of the day she and the others kids challenge each other's standpoints and personalities, forming an unlikely kinship by the final scenes. In a previous interview the singer claims to have pinned her whole world on the Alison character's aesthetic and aura. At this point I must mention the production of this album by John Congleton, who previously explored many of the outer limits of sound and recording techniques with his own band pAper chAse and brings his knowledge and mischief to the fore on this album like George Martin did as a fifth Beatle. On this record Congleton has conjured up a kind of deliberate imperfection, the antithesis you could say of Kraftwerk's super clean Kling Klang sound, that cleverly collages Ezra's wavering vocal style into a rough-edged yet melodic music, giving the impression of that of a worn vinyl record, somewhat like that which was done with later Tom Waits releases. ‘Poor Girl A Long Way from Heaven’, the title a nod to the old blues song ‘Poor Boy A Long Way from Home’, sonically evokes a soul/Motown vibe, with an intro that reminds me of 80's pop such as Culture Club's ‘Church of the Poisoned Mind’. The song is about recalling a conversation with God, on 4th April 1993 to be precise. There's a nod to the influence of Du Blonde here too, whose euphoric 2021 track ‘I’m Glad That We Broke Up’ features Ezra’s vocals. The beautiful, slow ‘Temple of Broken Dreams’ opens with an intro with a similar foreboding to Bright Eyes’ ‘Something Vague’ and is about the scattered communities of fellow travellers, drawing again on her Jewish heritage but applying it to the Trans community too, tirelessly travelling towards their utopian land. The song is full of clever, amusing couplets and aphorisms. "When you're far from home I do believe it's fair/To use a public bathroom mirror to cut your hair/In a cheap Southampton diner/I'm both Sampson and Delilah as I chain myself to the pillars of nowhere." The whole tale rolls along to Congleton's perfectly off-centre production with an eerie whistling solo to boot. ‘I Saw the Truth Undressing’ is a slowish, dreamy track contemplating the female form with cool backing vocals from Ezra's own Shangri La's, backing vocalists Debbie and Shannon. The whole thing builds up to a ramshackle, wild crescendo of brass and instrumentation. The final track is the tender ‘Come Close’. It's an uncompromising tale of anonymous sex, loneliness and unwanted attentions, and those left behind by queer liberation. "This one's for Stephen, who stands out at Belmont most days with a trenchcoat and a bottle of booze/Who asked if I had any love he could use" sings Furman, observing a broken world. Like Leonard Cohen, Ezra is unafraid to make nightlife observations link in with political and religious refences and this song takes the notion from Psalm 34 that "God is close to the broken hearted", which leads us right back to the album's opening track where "a broken hearts your ticket" for the train. All in all, a fine, intelligent and heartfelt album, deserving of repeat plays, which in my opinion, puts Furman's poetic songwriting on par with those she has clearly learnt from.

Track Listing:-
1 Train Comes Through
2 Throne
3 Dressed In Black
4 Forever In Sunset
5 Book Of Our Names
6 Point Me Toward The Real
7 Lilac And Black
8 Ally Sheedy In The Breakfast Club
9 Poor Girl A Long Way From Heaven
10 Temple Of Broken Dreams
11 I Saw The Truth Undressing
12 Come Close

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