Release Date: 9 February 2018
Transangelic Exodus is a new landmark for American singer-songwriter Ezra Furman: “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,” according to its author. “A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga.”
“The narrative thread,” Furman declares, “is I’m in love with an angel, and a government is after us, and we have to leave home because angels are illegal, as is harbouring angels. The term ‘transangelic’ refers to the fact people become angels because they grow wings. The have an operation, and they’re transformed. And it causes panic because some people think it’s contagious, or it should just be outlawed.”
“The album still works without the back story, though,” she vouches. “What’s essential is the mood – paranoid, authoritarian, the way certain people are stigmatised. It’s a theme in American life right now, and other so-called democracies.”
Checking Furman’s successive album covers will show her personal journey, coming out as queer and gender-fluid, which the jagged, agitated ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ meets head on, namely “the painful experience of being a closeted gender-non-conforming person. Having ‘trans’ in the album title has a lot to do with being queer, like [album finale] ‘I Lost My Innocence’ [“…to a boy named Vincent”). That early experience marks the narrator for life. From a young age, because of issues surrounding gender and sexuality, I felt fated to have an outsider perspective. It radicalises you.”
Transangelic Exodus addresses another kind of coming out, as Furman addresses her Jewish faith on record much more openly than before, from the shivery ballad ‘God Lifts Up the Lowly’ (which includes a verse in Hebrew) to the exquisite ‘Psalm 151’ and the line “I believe in God but I don’t believe we’re getting out of this one” in ‘Come Here Get Away From Me’, a heady blend of rock’n’roll rumble and ghostly clarinet.
Part of Furman’s motivation is the, “fear of fascist takeover,” expressed in the video to ‘Driving Down To L.A.’ (filmed in Virginia, and uncannily storyboarded before the state’s infamous Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally), as Ezra and her angel are pursued by modern-day Nazis. “At school, we learned all about the Holocaust, and were invited to imagine what would happen if the Nazis invaded again. As white supremacy has become more explicitly institutionalised in the US, my childhood nightmares have started to show up in songs.”
Crossing between love, gender, sexuality and religion, and singing in solidarity with the innocent, persecuted, oppressed and threatened, Ezra Furman has soundtracked the current fear and loathing across America like no other, while pushing ahead with her own agenda, always on the move.