Aug 30, 2022
By Caleb Campbell
Ezra Furman has seemingly spent her last two albums in constant motion. She first traced a collection of Springsteen-esque stories of escape and romance songs with 2018’s Transangelic Exodus, then quickly offered up an incendiary punk paen to rage and fury with 2019’s Twelve Nudes. Her songs have often felt restless and nervy, finding her searching for peace and comfort amidst a hostile world that doesn’t want Furman or the people she loves to exist.
However, All of Us Flames, the third record in a self-styled trilogy, feels different than the two that preceded it. For one, a lot has changed in the three years since 2019. In addition to the pains of the pandemic, in April of 2021, Ezra came out as both a trans woman and as a mother, elements that feel essential to All of Us Flames. The record itself feels both grander and more intimate, relying less on the metaphor and abstraction of Transangelic Exodus or on the jagged punk edges of Twelve Nudes. Most of all, Furman seems more settled and more assured. On All of Us Flames, Furman plays the role of both prophet and revolutionary, simultaneously uniting her “queer girl gang” in strength and solidarity, and hope for a better future to come.
She captures these themes from the record’s opening moments on “Train Comes Through.” The train to freedom is a foundational image in the annals of rock and soul, used by The Impressions, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and more. Furman adds her voice here, echoing the soul of that classic songwriters一“A transfiguration’s coming, a turning in the song/For the brutal static order they’ve depended on so long/This train will carry gamblers, it’ll carry us midnight ramblers too/A broken heart’s your ticket so be ready when the train comes through.”
Much of the album cultivates that same marriage of classic rock stylings and fervent passion, but Furman reframes and reclaims these styles as explicitly part of queer stories. “Dressed In Black” takes its name from a Shangri-La’s song and with it Furman crafts a loving pastiche of girl-group romanticism, yet she also imbues it with a protective ferocity and latent violence (“Stockpile our food, my knives, your gun/You’ll call my name and I will come”). Meanwhile, “Lilac and Black” is a rallying cry of trans solidarity and self-defense, with Furman out to reclaim the streets from the violence that is daily visited on trans people (“We’ve been alone too long/We belong together with our weapons drawn”).
As much as the themes of the record are deeply collective though, All of Us Flames also revels in displaying new angles to Furman as an artist and a songwriter. The record’s energy hits a soaring high early on with the heartland rock of “Forever In Sunset,” but the album’s more muted second half gives a chance for autobiography as Furman’s lyrics explore her transness for the first time since coming out. On “Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club” she describes the longing for the teenage girl she never got to be, conjuring hazy imagery of a used VHS with her own crackling lo-fi instrumental. In contrast to that track’s nostalgic imagery, “I Saw the Truth Undressing” finds Furman at her most ethereal and poetic, describing a single stolen moment of crystalline unmarred beauty.
These slight and quiet moments that populate the back half of the album do stand in stark contrast to the garage rock and punk soul of her last two records, but Furman’s ragged edges still remain if you know where to search for them. Her voice is still capable of a sublime gritty howl and a warm cracked croon, while her instrumentals still bite and bristle, even in their more muted settings. Furman and producer John Congleton also give tracks more room to breathe than before, adding extra bursts of color to the record, such as the dazzling horns that tinge “Point Me Towards the Real” or the cascading guitar lines on “Poor Girl a Long Way From Heaven.”
Each of these elements come together for a record that manages to capture the breadth of Furman’s talents and unite them in a soul-stirring invitation to collective solidarity and hope. All of Us Flames feels like not only Furman’s most moving work yet, but also her most authentic portrait as an artist and a person. After several albums of running and fighting, Furman is right where she belongs, united with the hurt, exploited, downtrodden, and forgotten. She says as much with the record’s final invitation一“Be close to the broken hearted/Put out your cigarette, honey, come close to me.” (www.ezrafurman.com)
Author rating: 8.5/10
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