If Ezra Furman’s recent single ‘Restless Year’ and its stop-motion video wasn’t proof enough of his brilliance, Perpetual Motion People, his first album for Bella Union delivers a cascade of memorably bristling hooks driven by a unique splicing of timeless influences, delivered with a restless urgency and combative spirit that shines through the American’s vocals and lyrics. Having taken his time to work his way into the public consciousness, Furman’s time is unquestionably now, as he finally faces an expectant audience hungry for the next stage of his thrilling approach, on record and on stage.
The album was recorded with Furman’s current band The Boyfriends – comprising Jorgen Jorgensen (bass), Ben Joseph (keyboards, guitar), Sam Durkes (drums) and saxophonist Tim Sandusky – and recorded at Sandusky’s studio Ballistico in Furman’s home city of Chicago (he’s currently based in San Francisco). Sandusky also recorded Furman’s last two albums, The Year of No Returning and Day Of The Dog. “Tim completely understands what is, or could be, good about my songs, and how to make a record,” says Furman. “Each album we make together, we’re really getting somewhere.”
Perpetual Motion People kicks off with ‘Restless Year’, about which Consequence Of Sound described as, “a ball of energy, bouncing around genre borders with glee. There’s the rebellion of ’90s indie rock, a string of sunshine-y ’80s pop, and the snarl of ’70s punk.”
“The opening lines of my records tend to be summary statements,” says Furman. “Every year has been restless, physically and even more internally.”
Hence the title Perpetual Motion People, “That’s who it was made by and that’s who it’s for. People who feel they can never settle. I’m restless in most aspects. I don’t tend to live in one place for long. I am always changing the way I present my gender. My religious life is intensely up and down in terms of observance and personal convictions. I’ve always viewed the idea of truth itself as something wobbly, always slipping out of our grasp. That’s what the songs are about: a head that is haunted, a society I cannot join, a lover who is perpetually in the act of leaving. A central idea is the fugitive or runaway, in a hideout built in the midst of an unfriendly or alienated world.
“The other aspect is a feeling of expansiveness, the largeness of emotion, from joy to pain. Some people think life is small or confined, but to me it’s just big, and I’d say each song has something to say, to declare themselves large. It’s also to do with trying to make something that a lot of people would listen to after Day Of The Dog got some kind of increased attention.”
It was that lack of wider awareness after nearly a decade of releases that inspired the title Day Of The Dog, “because I felt it was a good enough record for people to pay attention to,” Furman declares. “To be honest, I was going to quit if it hadn’t connected, given I’d made a record that I liked so much, that I felt didn’t have a false note on it.”
Fortunately the album found its place, with The Guardian awarding five stars to both the album and his live show. In self-deprecating fashion, Furman refers to the breakthrough on ‘Lousy Connection’ [“I’ve got the world’s ear, I’m all fucking mumbles/ I guess I’m just another link in a chain”] while the music taps his favourite ‘50s doo-wop (“I love those low bassy voices and those nonsense cartoon lyrics, like “sham-a lama”, it just worms its way into my head”) accompanied by Sandusky’s parping saxophone. “I don’t want to be too cocky about it,” Furman sighs. “Fame comes and goes. I still have the same job, to make something really good.”
In that, he’s done his job, switching from the sinewy jubilance of “Hark! To The Music’ to the wistful heart-ache of ‘Ordinary Life’, from the power-pop snarl of ‘Tip Of The Match’ to the wracked country blues of “One Day I Will Sin No More”. The waterfront covered marks Furman out as a true original, tapping avenues of music that most others have left well alone, or wouldn’t have the guts to emulate. “There’s rarely been a scene that I’ve wanted to be part of,” he admits. “I’m just not hearing other stuff out there that I wish existed, so that’s my goal, to do it myself.”
Though reluctant to single out tracks, given they’re all equally loved, Furman admits that ‘Ordinary Life’ “is a concept I’ve been trying to get out for a long time.” He cites transgender American author, playwright, performance artist and gender theorist Kate Bornstein: “She’s struggled a lot with depression and suicidal thoughts, she said, ‘Do anything you have to do to make your life worth living, break the law, run away from home, destroy your possessions; just don’t be mean to people’. I meet a lot of fans in need, and in pain. I feel desperate a lot too – desperate to shake people by the shoulders and try to explain something, I’m just not sure what.”
The sax/guitar/handclap-driven ‘Body Was Made’ follows a similar thought about deciding your own gender and thought process: “Your body is yours at the end of the day / And don’t let the hateful try and take it away / We want to be free, yeah we go our own way and my body was made.”
‘Wobbly’ reinforces the message that, “the world of categories and limitations has very little to do with me,” Furman declares. “Each life has no precedent, so there’s no plan you can fit into. No one is categorisable.”
So it goes for Perpetual Motion People, besides the category of Great Albums of 2015, with its equal doses of desperation and joie de vivre, irresistible melody and boundless energy. Ultimately, Furman declares, life in perpetual motion is, “a good way to be. If you are never sure footing, you don’t get bored and the world is always new. It causes a lot of pain as well, but it seems worth it, and it is probably the only way I know how to be.”