Ezra Furman on “Transangelic Exodus”

Don't Feel the Squeeze For Art

May 29, 2018 Issue #63 - Courtney Barnett
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first time I try to call Ezra Furman in Belgium, I'm greeted by his voicemail: "This is Ezra, leave a message. Don't be shy, it's just you and me." I was, in fact, hella nervous: the gender-fluid frontman had directed several incarnations of his backing band for 11 years before I'd stumbled into his sphere. I was not worthyand yet, before we'd even formally exchanged words, here he was, offering solace.

At any rate, I shouldn't have been concerned; his new album Transangelic Exodus invites a new kind of listener, anyway. Through a highway odyssey that follows two gay lovers in exile as they mutate into angels, Furman chopped and hacked at his old rock 'n' roll bravado until he hit a wonky new vein of adrenaline. "That might be an addiction of mine, to a fault: the addiction of moving on," he muses, after we've finally connected on a very shaky WhatsApp call. (Twenty minutes in, after several agonizing pauses and exasperated "hellos," we would shift entirely to text messages.)

Granted, that compulsion might challenge some of Furman's fans. Indeed, our reviewer deemed Transangelic Exodus as "too confusing," and stamped it with a 5/10. "I hate to say this, but I think that's a good sign," says Furman when I mention the review. "The aim was to be more adventurous, and not rely on too many old tricks." He cites albums that encouraged this daring step forward, music that excited him because "it didn't have to sound like it was played in a room by people": Tune-Yards' w h o k i l l, Beck's Odelay, Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City. Books with unconventional narrative schemes also inspired Furman, like Renata Adler's Speedboat and David Shields' Reality Hunger.

Transangelic Exodus certainly thrills the willing rider, no doubt. But tangible compassion for the real "angels" in transition distinguishes this from any other visceral joyride. "This notion that feeling the squeeze, either with mental health, or cultural conditions, or having no money, that's going to make you a good artist? That's wrong, and so upsetting," Furman says. "Compulsive Liar," a cautionary tale that outlines "the lifelong effort to renounce the duplicity that being closeted bakes into you," embodies that mentality outright.

Elsewhere, in another break from the "society-is-breaking-down paranoia" of the main narrative, the bouncy New Wave romp "Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" deftly conveys the private, prosaic distress of being openly queer in a disapproving environment. "What I realized in the course of writing this record is that those are essentially the same thing: repressive control and suppression of the bodies of certain stigmatized people," Furman says. "It's all of a piece."

I could have probed Furman deeper, but I didn't want to bother him any longerour text chat had already spilled past the 24-hour mark. And anyway, he confirmed what I'd already suspected: despite all the revelatory fanfare, Transangelic Exodus seeks not to burn bridges with old purists, but build paths to new fans in need of a change.

[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's Spring 2018 Issue (March/April/May 2018), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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