Music

Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People

Like a shark, albeit in a $5 dress and red lipstick, Ezra Furman's gotta keep on movin'.


Ezra Furman

Perpetual Motion People

Label: Bella Union
US Release Date: 2015-07-07
UK Release Date: 2015-07-06
Website
Amazon
iTunes

"They'll never pin me down in the pages like a bug / Never classify me; don't try / I want to be freeee!" warns Ezra Furman during the admirably demented "Wobbly". It's one of many highlights on this transient tunesmith's sixth set and encapsulates much of the feverish genre-hoppin' therein. Rock 'n' Roll. Doo wop. Beatnik shimmy shake. Thin White Duke cool. College rock. Jazz hand showtunes. Moonshine country. Southern fried spirituals. Furman races through 'em all like he's been asked to showcase the history of music to an alien in just 43 minutes. It's dazzling, dizzying and yes quite exhausting, to the point where the only thing you can pin down with any certainty is that Furman has undeniable talent.

Perpetual Motion People is a spirited celebration of the Rock 'n' Roll misfit and a toast to the 'Freak Unique' although its troubled heart yearns for comfort and connection. Thus it's a manic depressive experience too torn between 'heroic extrovert' and 'defeated introvert'. Bravado versus bereavement. The stronger first half focusses firmly on the former. The hyperactive "Restless Year" high-kicks like a sideshow showdown between Jack White and Austin Powers with Furman barking out anarchy anecdotes like a 'fire and brimstone' preacher, "DEATH is my former employer! / DEATH is my own Tom Sawyer!". There are kitschy 1960s organs, double-Dutch percussion, rubber-necked guitars, sunstroked "ooh la ooh" harmonies and Ezra's magic cocktail for success: a $5 dress and a bus pass. "Lousy Connection" is all Tower of Power horns, fingersnaps, flicked strings, Spector sparkle and hella "Shoobee! Shoo doo!". With tragicomic timing Furman unveils a Bukowski-Burroughs slumdog soliloquy of syringes, blue lipstick and bugs in the hinges 'til he's "All fucking mumbles". A song so marvelously melodramatic it deserves one of James Brown's underpaid stooges to throw a cape over it and escort it offstage. "I want the universe! / God knows I've been patient!" it demands not unreasonably.

The show-off must go on! "Hark! to the Music" is the Monkees covering R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World". For Sesame Street. In 90 seconds. Yet it shares the Joker's strychnine grin, "Crawl outta your holes / You little roaches!" The aforementioned ode to oddness "Wobbly" channels a youthful David Byrne resplendent in a straitjacket and queuing for his morning meds. Possibly as Nurse Ratched electric boogaloos just out of shot. Hilariously upbeat, its infectious frivolity proves futile to resist. It pole vaults somewhere over the rainbow before a split screen dials in a comedy devil cursing beneath an actual shit cloud, "I don't want to stay down here!" Majestic album highlight "Haunted Head" finds Furman further at the crossroads betwixt hope and despair. A soulboy sibling of Bowie's debonair "Sound & Vision" but, y'know, sung naked and alone behind closed curtains in a hot fog of cigarettes and whisky. "I was born this way / I'll die this way" it laments before throwing its "Arms around the toilet like a long lost chum". It'd be devastating were it not for the divine melody, slick groove and the gently soothing harmonies. When God finally sends salvation in the form of 'Guardian Angel' Tim Sandusky's celestial sax solo "Haunted" becomes one of 2015's most transcendental moments. Run to the light folks.

Heaven or hell? The second half of Perpetual Motion People flips anxiously back and forth between the two with the results being similarly up 'n' down. The Pearly Gates remain the better destination. Up there is a survivalist bruiser that burns like the Pixies ("Tip of a Match") and a funky gospel rouser worthy of the Flaming Lips ("Can I Sleep In Your Brain?"). Better still the dapper dandy "Body Was Made" parades with all the preening peacock plumage of vintage Marc Bolan. "My body was made so just fuckin' relax!" struts Furman with freakpower finesse. Elsewhere the contagious ants-in-yer-pants, boogie woogie of "Pot Holes" brings the sting with some sharp social satire. Furman mocks the soulless suits paranoia of the Southside where there are "Black men sleeping on your white concrete". There's more to Perpetual Motion People than "bow dowdow doop di doo" but hey, that's important too.

It's mostly on the down low that Perpetual Motion People gets slightly, well, "Wobbly", veering too bluntly towards pastiche. The midnight mourner "Hour of Deepest Need" waltzes so snugly around Harvest Moon-era Neil Young or Gram Parson's own "In My Hour of Darkness" it ends up stepping on their toes. Dusty brushed drums, the sheltering solace of stand-up bass and a piano with keys like chipped, cigarette-stained teeth. It's saved by some striking imagery though, "The porch light draws the horseflies to their fate". "Watch You Go By" delivers more booze hound nostalgia. This time Furman's channelling John Lennon at his most wistfully bereft. "I've got a bright future in music as long as I never find true happiness" it pines archly under teardrop acoustics. The hymnal "One Day I Will Sin No More" is sweet enough if overly familiar. Picture Daniel Johnston singing "Kumbaya". Almost too classic. "I'm sick of this record already" spits the Randy Newman-esque "Ordinary Life" in riposte. The best of the down crowd, it rises from its urchin origins to a Phoenix crescendo. "Stay alive!" it commands before offering a final 'live long and prosper' handshake of "ditty bop, sha-lang lang!". Message received and yes, fuck "Beauty".

Try as it might to avoid your grasp, Perpetual Motion People is worth holding on to. Ezra Furman is a 'star' in the good, old-fashioned sense. A talent with personality who's obsessive yet empathetic, sincerely strange and "One of us" if not quite "One of us". People's plethora of costume changes means not everything fits perfectly - 2013's Day of the Dog arguably remains Furman's finest, but it certainly throws another half-dozen truly great songs into the traveling man's knapsack. This elusive entertainer remains still very much on the run.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.