Release Date: 2/9/18
Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman’s seventh studio album, and apparently only just crossing my radar now, is an early contender for Album of the Year.
The album starts out with the upbeat, very Bruce Springsteen-esque “Suck the Blood From My Wound”. It sounds like the perfect song to play when you are about to head out on a road trip. Which is appropriate, thematically, since the record is essentially Ezra Furman on the run, physically via the interstate, and metaphorically via path to a self-discovery of sorts. The lyrics on this album are excellent and highly evocative. This track doesn’t quite accurately set expectations for what is to come, however. This is the last time you’ll even think of Springsteen, and if you take particular note of the first several seconds, as well as the final 30 seconds or so, you can get a better sense of the amount of variety this album offers.
I have zero point of reference for the sounds contained within the second track “Driving Down to L.A.”. In a sense it’s a hip-hop beat that sets the musical tone here, but with Ezra’s highly emotive and passionate vocals. Something from my past musical experiences intuits this is not a groundbreaking and completely original track, but as far as being generally so far outside my wheelhouse here, it’s a wonderfully different change of pace.
“God Lifts Up the Lowly” is driven by a percussive string and piano arrangement à la “Eleanor Rigby”, except considerably more morose, as well as clearly not even attempting to be a prototypical pop song. The inclusion of this song is all about pacing, and for the story the lyrics tell.
“No Place” picks up the pace considerably – an upbeat track with lo-fi instrumentals, and instrumentation that is highly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel. “The Great Unknown” is brilliantly placed in the track listing. Driven early on entirely by tom-tom’s, melodic singing in the foreground and some percussive yelling in the background, it builds with some struck chords as the track runs on as well as some keyboards, layering the song with more and more tasteful overdubs, and reaching stunning heights.
As already indicated, the album is paced very well, with great attention paid to the albums overall flow. “Compulsive Liar” continues this and comes at just the right time to reference the distinct sounds of previous tracks – there are programmed electronic beats in the vein of the second track, percussive string arrangements like track three, and tom-tom’s sometimes leading the charge much like the previous track.
Ever paying attention to pacing, the energy level is picked right back up with “Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill”, replete with cheerleader style chanting towards the end of the song, followed by some Styx-style keyboard leads, which are cut off abruptly as we go into the dark-sounding “From a Beach House”, one of my favorite cuts on the album. Which isn’t too surprising of course, considering my love of Bauhaus and Wire. Other reviews clearly indicate my love of darkness in music, especially when it comes to riding those lines between dark and light. The contrast is done very well here. While I would call this an album highlight, I can see it being far more effective in context of listening to the album.
“Love You So Bad” is one of the catchier tracks on the album. The callback vocals of “so bad, s-so bad” is incredibly catchy, as is the “wah – wah wah – wah-wah-wah wah wah” vocal refrain towards the songs climax.
“Come Here Get Away From Me” is another dark track, but in a different way than “From a Beach House”. This one has more of a folksy darkness, and when the song picks up, the change-up in instrumentation is stunning. The musical accompaniment plays like an auditory interpretation of the places the lyrics are referencing itself, making for a cohesive songwriting statement.
My personal album highlight happens during the next track, “Peel My Orange Every Morning”, when an abrupt, loud, lo-fi, distorted string-and-drum arrangement plays out in short bursts and at a manic pace.
Keeping to the pace set by the rest of the album. Ezra slows it down a bit yet again, with the acoustic guitar-driven “Psalm 151,” though it does feature some tasteful overdubs from a variety of keyboard sounds and some slightly overdriven guitars during the choruses.
The album finishes out with the upbeat “I Lost My Innocence,” which is one of the catchier tracks on the album, as well as a great send-off. The bass sound on this track is excellent. Clearly inspired by Paul McCartney’s bass sound on Sgt. Pepper’s. As are the horn arrangements, for that matter. Considering the subject matter and overall sound of this album, it was a wise choice to end the album without a bitter taste in your mouth, and ends what is one of the finest releases of the 2010’s.
Highlights: “Suck the Blood From My Wound”, “Driving Down to L.A.”, “From a Beach House”, “Come Here Get Away From Me”, “Peel My Orange Every Morning”