A multi-faceted musician keeps up his momentum
Ezra Furman is a well-rounded musician and lyricist who is an accessible, genre spanning, gender non-conforming, Shabbat-observant Jew (hats off: it’s difficult to abstain from traveling on Saturdays when you’re a touring musician). To be intrigued by Ezra Furman is natural. Releasing a follow-up to breakout album Perpetual Motion People, 6-track EP Big Fugitive Life (Bella Union) is dedicated to the wanderers and the refugees of the past and present, with the Bella Union site explaining that each track focuses “on the theme of the mind unmoored — those of us who have been left to drift unsupervised through the modern world,” and stating “may all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and may those with power welcome them as fellow citizens of humanity.” For a six song EP, this is a hard-hitting message to attempt to convey, especially when four tracks were originally intended for Furman’s last LP Perpetual Motion People and two others meant for 2012 solo debut, The Year of No Returning. The songs weren’t truly ready until now, and this gives Big Fugitive Life a patchwork effect that actually falls in line with its mission statement.
It’s always nice to see a musician rescue old tracks and see them through to a second life – it gives the song a story, additional vibrance and a glimpse into a given creative process that isn’t unlike that of a painter or writer. Big Fugitive Life is broken into two parts; the first being Furman’s vision of rock roll layered over the urge to get out and the knowledge of being on a path, and the second encompassing a sadder emotional showcase that’s been billed as a ‘tender mind on display’.
Beginning with unassuming guitar strums and Furman’s crystal clear delivery, first track “Teddy I’m Ready” immediately tackles modern-world exhaustion and expresses a readiness to hit the road with a turned up cadence that showcases building percussion, cheeky brass supplements and subtle female harmony, letting the track take a doo-wop pop turn. “Halley’s Comet” sees Furman channeling his best take on a Clap Your Hands Say Yeah song, with reminiscence in both vocals and song structure, while “Little Piece Of Trash” is a punched up number that is so very ’90s – complete with brassy ska sensibilities, childish synth rolls, a crashing bridge and self-loathing subject matter.
However Furman truly shines with last track “The Refugee,” a song that wholly encompasses his Jewish heritage and pays homage to his own grandfather’s plight during the Nazi occupation in Poland. The lyrics baldly tell a story without contrivance or embellishment, which is precisely what helps it hit the emotional mark so effectively. With sad strings, measured strums and heated, simmering vocals not unlike something Delta Spirit might deliver, “The Refugee” also sees a gorgeous arrangement of eastern European influence with flourishes of clarinet and melodica. It’s a stunning track and it’s very possible Furman has tapped into a genuine talent and sensibility here (not to diminish the other genres that are blended relatively easily throughout the EP), and this particular strain may be the one that possesses the most heart. Hopefully Furman continues to explore these avenues and hones his skills; the trajectory seemingly only points upward.