Ezra Furman, “Perpetual Motion People”, (2015)

(Using they/them pronouns for this one, because Furman has come out as gender fluid and this album has a lot of material about that and that’s one of the reasons I love it and TBH it would be disingenuous of me to not do that).

Thank God for this album. As Father John Misty lumbers forward on his odious one-man crusade to kill (breezeblock, sack, canal) Radio 6-friendly, literate pop music, discovering this disc felt like a reassuring hand on my shoulder from the folk above. It’s a palpitation of an album, running to and fro, about gender identity, mental health problems, existential angst, in a way that’s both optimistic and realistic. The central message seem to be; if you embrace yourself for who you are, in an authentic way, then that’s half the battle fought and won.

The music is an absolute grab-bag, reflecting Furman’s restlessness in their identity and their musical proclivities. The first four tracks are something of a suite, exploring doo-wop and jitter-pop variations with a breathless verve. The aptly titled opener “Restless Year” throws out reworked variations on a central refrain, a Joy Division-esque riff, and Furman’s fraught growl of a voice throwing out eye-catching, ear-grabbing statements left and right; “Death! Is my former employer/Death! Is my own Tom Sawyer”.

This continue onto the doo-wop infused second track “Lousy Connection”, in which Furman bemoans their inability to connect with those around him, and skewers their own construction of self; “I wanna see myself from the outside”. The ‘connection’ could also refer to Furman’s lack of mooring; “there’s nothing happening and it’s happening too fast” (there’s a million and one first tattoos there, calling it now).

“Hark! To The Music” presents, in a minute and a half, the kind of sentiment that The Smiths would have taken two minutes and a half to work through, hug the blessed DJ, and then “Haunted Head” really delves deep into the subject matter, with Furman addressing head-on their depression, “going through the motions like a champ”.

And on, and on. We get a couple of old-school folk/country ballads thrown into the mix (“Hour of Deepest Need” and “Watch You Go By”). “Pot Holes” is a pleasingly old-school honky-tonk alike romp. There’s recurring musical moments and ideas, such as a blaring clarinet (such an underused instrument), and backing vocals dishing out doo-wopisms left right and centre. The whole album sticks to a theme but can hardly be called “concept”; it’s way too disorganised and cluttered for that. It is a perfect reflection of the kind of mental state Furman spends 42 minutes describing to us.

I love this album to bits. It’s so candid, and fresh, and innovative. It’s got a sense of humour, and it isn’t preachy. As the world turns and moves towards a more sexually diverse state, music (and art in general) like this is a necessity. It’s an entry point, an airlock of empathy, that can get the general listener tapping the toes and then going “huh what’re they on about?” Then, hopefully, they learn.

It takes the rock myths of lore about gender binaries (Furman is a huge fan of Bowie and Reed) and finally makes them explicit. It’s no longer framed as a liminality, one foot in the traditionally straight world of rock and one foot in the queer camp. This is the real-deal, and I support Furman as much as I can.

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