Ezra Furman isn’t messing around on her latest release, Twelve Nudes, except she is. Her less than 30-minute blasts of noise and verbal diatribes against the increased political and sexual conservatism of the recent past rings out anthemically. It’s a call to arms, and legs, and other parts of the body. Her raspy vocals and screeching electric guitar licks combined with Sam Durkes pounding drums, Jorgen Jorgensen’s throbbing bass and Ben Joseph’s percussive keyboards suggest the physical nature of rebellion.
It’s a visceral response to the crappy world in which we live. In case you haven’t noticed, America has gone to shit on so many levels. You don’t have to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to know which way the wind blows. As a sexual outsider on the margins of what’s publicly acceptable, Furman is our canary in a coal mine. She may be among the first to suffer, but she sings out a warning and a call for action. “Time to do justice for the poor,” she sings on “Evening Prayer aka Justice”. The specifics of what is needed are not clear. This album is a rallying cry, not a prescription for the future.
Furman’s patriotism and love of country are explicit on tracks like “In America”. That means she supports the dream of equality and the pursuit of happiness. She also rails against the nation’s original sins. “I don’t give a shit what Ben Franklin intended / What some slaveowner men said,” Furman hoarsely declares to a tune vaguely reminiscent of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”. Well, ain’t that America? Furman’s less than strident here. She knows there’s a good side to the country as well. The song is more of a lamentation than a castigation despite a repudiation of past and current sins.
The album itself is more directly concerned with sexual politics than the conventional kind, although the assumption that the personal is political pervades every tune. “I just got one ambition,” Furman croons on “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend”, and the song’s title explains it all. However, she understands life is not so simple. The album opens with “Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone”, where Furman announces that she cannot be sedated. Furman shouts the words more than sings them, while “woo woos” ala the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” chime in the background. Her demons exist both within and without her.
This realization keeps Furman honest. Her rage may be the result of the traumas of daily living—the kind that causes others to start fires and destroy workplaces—but Furman understands that she didn’t start life as a blank slate only to be shaped by her environment. Her essential human nature predates her social situation. Her life has been a series of transformations, even as the core remains the same. She defines herself as a “shapeshifter” on the aptly named “Transition From Nowhere”. Her appearance may change (metaphorically and physically), but the real person inside remains unaffected.
Despite the pain expressed, or maybe because of it, this is a fun record. When she declares “My Teeth Hurt” on the song by that name, she may whine that “I’m not sure I can bite the hand that feeds me anymore” with her tongue in cheek as she also proclaims “When pleasure lets you down, you learn to lean into the pain”. The opposite is just as true. Furman demonstrates that an explosion of negative feelings creates an enjoyable sensation. Saying fuck you to the world provides a welcome release from feeling powerless. Furman does this with a smile on her face and a sense of humor. She consistently pokes fun at herself and her pretentions. And she called the record Twelve Nudes while there are only 11 tracks. The drollness of the product implies some existential absurdity. The world is not what it seems.