Chicago-based singer/songwriter Ezra Furman’s stellar fourth 2018 album, Transangelic Exodus, is, in the words of the artist on his label’s website, “not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on theme, a combination of fiction and a half true memoir.” He goes on to describe it as a “personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga.”
Being a queer, gender-fluid, Jewish artist with a voice that could cut through steel, Furman is the narrator in a loose tale of escape. He’s in love with an angel and is on the run from the law — as loving angels is illegal.
Through this narrative, Furman debunks all-American masculinity as he sings about religion, mental illness, and love with crazed passion.
The album opens with “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” a story about a jailbreak of sorts. A hospital escapee drives away in a cherry red Camaro. The fevered paranoid tone and lyrics of the song suggest a manic episode or a nightmare, underlined by a disorienting static sound at the beginning and end.
It ends with the hair-raising screaming of a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, by Tybalt, “a plague on both your houses!” If memory serves, Mercutio speaks these lines after being stabbed by Tybalt, and ultimately results in the further divide between the Capulets and Montagues, the death of Romeo and Juliet, and therefore the death of the two houses themselves. This is the parting word from Furman to the government who are chasing him and his angel. An eerie ending to an already intense song.
“Love You So Bad,” the most streamed song on the album, begins with cello and speaks of romantic shenanigans of youth. It is the story of a budding romance, beginning hopefully with swelling cellos and violins and statements of longing: “You know I love you so bad/Like the kid in the back of a classroom.”
The couple reach their long-awaited first kiss, “Always dreaming so they called me the Spaceman/You first kissed me in your parent’s blue basement,” then their unfortunate breakup, “I know the past is the past/Then again, the present’s nothing without it/I feel fine, don’t even feel sad about it/I just love you baby so bad.”
A tad upbeat than most of the songs on the album, it ends on a bittersweet note of nostalgic memories of
The album closes with “I Lost My Innocence,” a recount of Furman’s first sexual encounter with a boy. The light-hearted, upfront nature eases the dark and tumultuous drama present throughout Transangelic Exodus.
Coming in with a simple keyboard rhythm and introducing jubilant brass notes in the chorus, the sing-along lyrics conjure a feeling of joy and freedom. This triumphant song about how Furman “lost his innocence to a boy named Vincent/ in a single instant I was set free,” provides a romantic happy ending on otherwise a lonely and difficult journey.
Listening to this album made me fall in love with this artist and his unique sound. Each song is a short story, together making one incredible volume. I look forward to hearing more of Furman’s work.
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