There is no real need to give you a spoiler alert here, you’ve no doubt already clocked the stars accompanying the banner headline of this review, but I knew I was probably going to love this album upon hearing its first track. Anyone who has the imagination and wit to rhyme ‘Pasadena’ with ‘Ex-Machina’ and ‘assertion’ with ‘urchin’ deserves to be heard. Couple that with the fact that the whole album is based around Ezra and an outlawed angel on a road trip in a red Camero and you’ve got yourself one hell of a concept album. Well, actually, you haven’t apparently because it’s “Not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir,” It’s “A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga” says Ezra.
Besides the back story, which, by the way you can either jump right into or let pass you by, the album is full to the brim with some of Furman’s best work to date. Your enjoyment of the album may be enhanced if you go for the full immersive experience and read the author’s notes but you’ll enjoy it regardless just because the songs and songwriting are so strong. ‘Transangelic Exodus’ is certainly Ezra’s most accomplished work to date, his most cohesive and his most exhilarating. If you take the full director’s cut in one sitting you’ll feel like you’ve you sat through one of the best films of the year, albeit one that you’ve visualised for yourself.
The very dramatically titled ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound’ heads up the thirteen tracks that make up ‘Transangelic Exodus’. With an impassioned, near distressed performance, Ezra starts us on his embattled fugitive’s journey with a song that veers between the primal and raw to the hook-laden and melodic. ‘Driving Down To L.A’ exposes Ezra’s emotions still further coupling gently ushered revelations with scuzzily scored bass riffs and manically charged outbursts.
Throughout the album it becomes very clear that each song has been constructed with painstaking care and attention to detail. Some of the very small touches; the introduction of the oddest piece of keyboard, a backing vocal that could have been culled from a Hammer Horror film or an exquisite use of strings; give each track a USP that sets it aside. These songs and arrangements have not been thrown together they have been lovingly crafted with great skill to make an album that undoubtedly gives up more with each listen.
‘No Place’ is just one of the many tracks that highlight the calibre and pedigree of Ezra’s latest album. His confidence is clearly audible, literally and lyrically. Here he is fully charged, backed by wonderfully distorted horns, a pulsating percussion and always following a strong narrative. There is a palpable nervous excitement to be felt through the drama and theatrics of the track. The first single to be lifted from the album is similarly affecting. The sumptuous strings and semi-staccato vocal of ‘Love You So Bad’ give rise to a track that builds with each layer as Furman recollects memories from his youth.
The semi-autobiographical nature of the album doesn’t really need any explanation; it’s not difficult to draw comparisons with Ezra’s own “painful experience of being a closeted gender-non-conforming person”. There are, however, a couple of tracks on the album that don’t just touch on the subject, they deal with it explicitly and directly. On the driven and succinct ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’, Ezra exclaims, “The sun is shining but I dwell in the shadows / I am hideous and no one must ever know / I thank God who gives strength to the weary.” His emotive imparting feels like a cathartic release after years of frustration. Close out track ‘I Lost My Innocence’ sees Furman in a different guise, still wearing his heart firmly on his sleeve but in a playful, relaxed, content mood in a candid, humorous and lovingly recounted song. As well as taking in his sexual orientation and gender identity, ‘Transangelic Exodus’ also takes in Ezra’s Jewish faith, not only on Red Dress but also on ‘God Lifts Up The Lowly’ and ‘Psalm 151’.
Each of Furman’s songs takes us further into the psyche behind the artist, and in the end, give up someone who’s made a life-changing journey, encountered resistance and overcome all the obstacles that have been put before him. That’s all well and good in itself, however it’s not what makes this album great. It’s part of what makes it special, part of what sets it aside and makes it more interesting but it’s not it’s raison d’erte. ‘Transangelic Exodus’ may be an album that mirrors many of today’s troubling current affairs around the world but it is in the overriding quality of its songs that it will be forever enjoyed. These days there aren’t as many people who are going to listen to album from top to bottom but that won’t prevent any, or all, of the songs being enjoyed in isolation. What you get is joy and tragedy, love and torment, fabulous arrangements, inspired production and a stand-out, career-highlight performance from Ezra Furman.