"Mid-grade bourbon sitting in the cabinet"
As a rallying cry for a generation of music fans with a notoriously short attention span, ”Suck the Blood From my Wound” is an attention grabbing opener. Transangelic Exodus has the unenviable task of maintaining the attention of fans that Ezra Furman gained with 2015’s Perpetual Motion People, and with a solid opener and an idiosyncratic segue between the first track and “Driving Down to L.A.” it goes the right way about it. Granted, you sometimes wish that Furman wouldn’t lean so heavily on distortion effects, but he’s evidently not lost any of his way with a tune.
There’s a tonal shift with sonorous strings on third track “God Lifts up the Lowly”, but even at this early stage of proceedings, you’re already quite comfortable that Furman remains on point when it comes to his lyrics, and hey, at least he’s using a different sort of distortion effect on this song.
There’s a further tonal shift with “No Place”, which switches from heads down distorted indie rocker and strips back the layers to something more considered, resulting in a song seemingly purpose built to demonstrate both Furman’s range, and his willingness to mess with the listener’s expectations. “The Great Unknown” opens with a drum pattern which gets the pulse racing, and shouted backing vocals backing up Furman’s own voice, then as the song slowly builds, instruments join one by one, slowly laying one over the last, resulting in a sort of audio laminate, something which sounds clumsy, but is actually far more effective than you’d imagine.
Throughout Transangelic Exodus there are hints that these songs may be some of the most deeply personal lyrics that Furman has ever committed to disc, particularly on a song like the self-explanatory “Compulsive Liar”. This contrasts with his almost herculean attempts to stand out from the indie kid pack, where there’s a general feeling that Ezra Furman is trying just a little bit too hard to be unique, rather than just playing to his strengths and letting his songs speak for themselves. This inevitably results in some numbers which work unexpectedly well, while others don’t quite make the impact that they perhaps might have if Furman hadn’t got so distracted with sounding a bit weird.
I’ve no doubt that Transangelic Exodus will please established fans of Furman’s work, however anyone approaching him for the first time might find themselves a bit disorientated. For every irresistible indie pop number like “Love You so Bad”, or dramatic “Psalm 151”, there’s another which falls short of what it might have been if Furman had exercised a touch more restraint, such as on “Come Here Get Away From Me”, where he seems to be bordering on the edge of unhinged. While Furman’s songcraft is strong enough to ensure that Transangelic Exodus isn’t an uneven album, which is a minor miracle on its own, there’s no obvious reason as to why this should be the case, as you really would expect it to sound much wonkier than it is. It seems that Ezra Furman is a master of ensuring an album like Transangelic Exodus is painstakingly well balanced. Well played Mr Furman.
Just go a little bit lighter on the whole distortion thing next time, eh?