Methods main-man and long time Future Islands fan Christopher wrote some lovely things about the group following their career-changing appearance on David Letterman. Often when a band or artist you’ve loved for a while is about to blow up (not literally, obviously) you can feel a touch of resentment at their new fan-base, “where were you five years ago?!?” etc. but to see an underdog finally have their day can also be thrilling, especially when it’s fairly unexpected. You can basically transfer everything Christopher said about Future Islands and apply it to how I feel about Ezra Furman.
An appearance on ‘Later… with Jools Holland’, constant 6 Music airplay, articles in all the monthly rock mags and broadsheets, it certainly feels like his time has arrived in the UK at least. Perpetual Motion People is also the first Furman album to be reviewed by Pitchfork Media (despite both hailing from Chicago!) so it may be that he’s about to finally get some well deserved attention in his homeland too.
New(ish) Furman mega-fan and Guardian music writer Michael Hann recently wrote that 2013’s Day of the Dog “was the record that gained him an audience in Europe”, which I found strange considering that I first saw him play live was with his band the Harpoons in Innsbruck, Austria (where I live) in early 2010 and I certainly wasn’t the only person at the Weekender Club that night. This the point where I could say that’s when I was won over and I’ve been a huge fan ever since, but that would be a falsehood. At that time Furman was well known amongst young Austrian indie-rock fans for his song ‘Take Off Your Sunglasses’, a Dylan-esque alternative radio favourite. Decent track though it is, he seemed like a man still searching for his own sound, like a musical magpie – a bit Lou Reed here, a bit Jonathan Richman there – rather than an alchemist.
It was seeing him perform a solo acoustic show as support to Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws the following year that really made me aware of just what massive talent he possessed. He seemed more unhinged at that point, and frankly he was much better for it. It was very much a case of the support act completely blowing away the main attraction. Caws’ Mr Nicey Nice act paled into dull insignificance in comparison.
After the Harpoons broke up – seemingly a mutual decision in order to allow the band to get on with their lives following years of struggle and little reward – Furman made a really good solo album in The Year of No Returning but it was hooking up with a new band called The Boyfriends that really seems to have kickstarted his career.
Previous release Day of the Dog was an absolute gem and wonderful single ‘My Zero’ in particular brought him to the attention of a much wider audience. Seeing him live for the third time following the album’s release, Furman entered the stage in full drag, and proceeded to play one of the most entertaining gigs I’ve seen in recent years. He’s spoken of how being more honest, especially about his cross-dressing and bisexual tendencies, seems to have brought him a bigger audience. There was something just much more ‘out-there’ about him at that concert, a man with little left to lose. If he had to go out, he was going out with all guns blazing.
Furman’s voice is a guttural, often fairly harsh sounding instrument, but it is at least instantly recognizable. Although I’d term what he does as ‘Pop Music’ (there’s really nothing scary about the sounds and many of the melodies are instantly hummable) he has the kind of voice that would probably get him turned away from The X Factor at the audition stage, but that’s another reason why I like it.
Furman’s new album Perpetual Motion People is another gem, and I hope it makes him a huge star, but in these days of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran selling out stadiums the problem might well be that he’s nowhere near bland enough.
The double whammy of ‘Restless Year’ and ‘Lousy Connection’ is a hugely impressive start, showcasing Furman and The Boyfriend’s ability to marry together doo-wop, indie, punk and pure pop into a coherent sound of their own. It’s an unlikely but winning mix. What I particularly like is that whilst strong echoes of rock and pop’s past are certainly clear, at no point does it sound like some sort of Mark Ronson-produced pastiche. At certain times the ‘kitchen sink-ness’ can make certain songs feel a little cluttered, but it’s also representative of the all-or-nothing approach which can also be clearly heard in Furman’s lyrics.
“I’m having too much fun, my arms around the toilet like a long lost chum, kneeling at the throne, I’m speaking deaf and dumb” he declares on ‘My Haunted Head’. I’m sure many of us have been there (haven’t we? No? Just me and Ezra then? Oh) but few have been able to describe their self-destructive and depressive tendencies quite so entertainingly. Furman’s entire lyrical output is pretty much a catalogue of the on-going battle between himself and his inner-demons. It’s self-absorbed for sure, but then that seems to be the way with pretty much every singer-songwriter these days, and at least Furman’s self deprecting sense of humour lightens the load at just about every turn.
‘Watch You Go By’ (imagine Jonathan Richman produced by George Martin) is perhaps the most beautiful paean to alcoholism I’ve ever heard. “I’ve got a bright future in music. As long as I never find true happiness” he croons. It sums up the Furman dichotomy perfectly. I want to wish him the best of luck for the future, but I know to do so is counter productive. Break a leg, Ezra!