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Last we heard from the gender-nonconfirming indie rock firebrand Ezra Furman, we were spectators to a queer outlaw travelogue. Transatlantic Exodus was a glorious sprawl. Twelve Nudes, the new Ezra Furman album, is a compact punk piss-take — all rage and carnality and euphoria.
Clocking in at a precise 28 minutes and 11 tracks, Twelve Nudes is not for the faint of heart (or ear). Furman has called the record “a controlled forest fire of negativity” while clarifying that “I think the feeling of the whole record is: years are going by, and we haven’t dealt with how bad it feels to live under patriarchy, to let the rich get away with almost anything, and to let the poor get away with nothing and be blamed for things they didn’t do. Somehow, it started to all seem like one thing, one system — patriarchy and hyper-capitalism sort of meld into this status quo that continues to damage me and my friends and other people.”
This feeling is none more evident than on the sludge crawl of “Trauma” and its plangent refrain: “years roll on and we still have not dealt with our trauma.” The stomping “Evening Prayer aka Justice” is a shout-out to the woke millennials, the kids “who’ve just learned to howl.” And the 56-second “Blown” updates the dissonant missives of early Pavement for a post-gender community of similar feeling outcasts.
When the new Ezra Furman album isn’t lashing out at the day-to-day social injustices he both sees and has experienced, it takes solace in love, sex and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. The opening track “Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone” is a breakneck meld of Sex Pistols snarl and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” Those backup “whoo whoo”’s are priceless. “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” — the record’s current single — encompasses the perfidies of the job market and religious questioning on its way to a lover’s arms, all the while wrapped in a ’50s-influenced melody that’s the most gentle thing here. It’s a measured breath against a sustained howl.
Furman’s voice, as I’ve said before, is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition for most listeners. Naysayers find him whiney and histrionic. I love his rawness and admire Furman’s dedication to passion over technique, which you could also say about all his recorded output. If he was an indie pop artist, this could be a commercial liability. But he’s not. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll performer with roots in every decade from the ’50s on.
And he’s damn near in a category of his own. There hasn’t been a rock artist whose mere presence challenges accepted heteronormative assumptions since his spiritual forebear Little Richard introduced the world to “Tutti Frutti.” Manic, flamboyant, impassioned, petulant, enraged, horny and hotwired for sex and maybe love — Furman is proudly all these things and more. Or as he sums it up on the song he goes out on here: “What Can You Do But Rock ‘N’ Roll”.