If Ezra Furman was looking for a gap in the market, he found one with “queer outlaw saga.” On his fourth solo album Transangelic Exodus, Furman digs deep into a narrative, weaving a tale of outlawed lovers on the run from a society that won’t accept them. The allegory of the road trip, where one finds companionship in otherness and acceptance in solitude, is an American standard. But unlike Springsteen’s Born to Run or Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, this folk hero is unconventional, rejecting macho man grit for a “Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill.”
The production on Transangelic Exodus is inventive, and the songwriting reflexive. The supernatural theme comes through in angelic background vocals and twinkling synthesized moments. There are obvious autobiographical cues, Furman slowly revealing himself, song by song. In “Peel My Orange Each Morning,” Furman sings, “I am citrus: peel back my skin / Open me and expose the soft wet inside.”
Furman’s warbling tenor has an urgency, moving fast and forceful, like he’s constantly escaping the scene of a crime. The opening track “Suck the Blood from My Wound” sets the tone for an album full of fun, baroque pop music. At the end of the track, amid feedback, Furman screams “a plague o’ both your houses,” a cheeky nod to unrequited love. He is literary, but unpretentious, singing about fallen angels and Girl Scout cookies in the same breath.
Though infrequent, the quieter moments on the album like “God Lifts Up the Lonely” and “Pslam 151” are beautiful meditations. The restrained strings of the former and lazy drumming of the latter are mixed a touch louder than the vocals. It feels like Furman is being so personal, he’s not quite sure if he wants to be heard. Lucky for us, it seems as if he can’t help himself.
“Love You So Bad,” the first single off the album, is a pure and simple teenage love song, “Jack and Diane” for 2018, complete with an under-the-bleacher makeout. The backing vocals add a sing-along quality, and the clarity of the strings keeps it lighter than more fuzzed-out tracks. The twang in “Compulsive Liar” and “Come Here Get Away From Me” adds to the “outlaw” mythology, evoking Johnny Cash (but with more lipstick). While borrowing from American standards, Furman still leaves a very personal mark, reimagining heteronormative tropes within his own supernatural world.
Transangelic Exodus feels like a concept album, but with disjointed moments of simple pop brightness. This album is creative and catchy, a true crowd-pleaser, despite the setting of a world where Furman doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. Transangelic Exodus is both a postcard from the road, inviting you to ride along, and the diary of a songwriter, raw and compelling.
Notable Tracks: “Love You So Bad” | “No Place” | “Suck the Blood from My Wound”