Release Date: Jul 10, 2015
Record label: Bella Union
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Perpetual Motion People are the “people who feel they can never settle” for whom and by whom this album was made, according to its creator, 28-year-old Chicagoan Ezra Furman, the skittish soul at the centre of the irrepressible, irresistible opener, Restless Year. But the title also seems to speak to something else, a sense of always moving but going nowhere, endlessly revolving on the spot: as Furman sings in Lousy Connection, “there’s nothing happening, and it’s happening too fast”. Much as its predecessor was sprinkled with the shoop-shoops and saxophones, the harmonies and handclaps of early rock & roll, along with hints of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano, Furman borrows liberally here from musical history to provide settings for his intimate, ingenuous songs.
Frenetic Chicago songman Ezra Furman returns with Perpetual Motion People, his third solo LP and first for British indie Bella Union. Since disbanding his former group the Harpoons in 2011, Furman has worked in an array of mediums, from the edgy, introspective folk-pop of his 2012 solo debut The Year of No Returning to the nervy, '50s-tinged punk of his follow-up Day of the Dog. On his third outing, the simmering stew of influences that has followed him around (the Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground, Violent Femmes, etc.) whirl together in a blur of color as he finally goes off the deep end in the best of ways.
There’s a feeling throughout ‘Perpetual Motion People’ that Ezra Furman is ‘in the moment’ – and that he knows it. This is his hot streak and he’s going to grab it. There’s a ramshackle magical confidence that tumbles throughout all the songs, a sense that Furman has created his own unique, captivating world. And if there’s any justice, this could be the moment Furman becomes a star.
Misfits can often be hard to listen to. Wherever their alienation springs from – a sense of marginalisation, lack of formal chops, some deeper source – it often reflects in their art, which comes across to more privileged, more schooled “straights” as raw, untutored, or hard to process; an acquired taste. Ezra Furman is not like that. The 28-year-old Chicago-born singer, on his third solo album and the cusp of renown, is, bluntly, an observant rock’n’roll Jew who cross-dresses; he identifies as bisexual and has a history of depression.
In September 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum opened in Cleveland, Ohio, its ribbon cut by Yoko Ono and Little Richard. Not everyone was happy. A US writer called Bill Repsher suggested that, instead of 150,000 square feet of memorabilia, a museum of rock’n’roll should only have one exhibit: “a dummy made up to look like a skinny, acne-scarred kid in a bedroom”, its window overlooking a street where said kid’s popular peers – “the kind that would never look twice at a loser like that” – are hanging out.
The Pied Piper of restless outcasts everywhere, Chicago’s Ezra Furman – the sexual, religious and musical floating voter pictured in drag on the cover of ‘Perpetual Motion People’ – has made this third solo album specifically for fellow experience dabblers. Doused in saucy saxophones that make it sound like the sort of ramshackle ‘50s retro revue that Mac DeMarco might make if he fronted Dexys Midnight Runners, it hops, skips and jumps between genres with abandon. One minute he’s lovelorn Neil Young (‘Hour Of Deepest Need’) or roots rock Neutral Milk Hotel (‘Tip Of A Match’), the next he’s skiffle Showaddywaddy (‘Pot Holes’) or drunk Benny Hill (‘Wobbly’).
Ezra Furman's third solo album is about youth, discontentment, and longing. A little scattered and with occasionally mediocre lyrics, it congeals into a fun, extremely varied, and repeatedly listenable album. "Restless Year" is instantly and uniquely memorable, and final track "One Day I Will Sin No More" stands alone for its folky acoustic sweetness.
“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.
Nothing about Ezra Furman holds still. He loads his albums with frantic energy and watches them burn down to embers. Unlike the wiry, anxious music his brother Jonah writes with the Massachusetts band Krill, Furman's music hides little behind metaphor or enigma. He'd rather spit out all his problems than wrap them up into something oblique.
The moment you put on Perpetual Motion People, you feel right at home. Opener and lead single “Restless Year” is a melange of cheery ’80s pop and punkish lead vocals, signposting off the bat where Ezra Furman has situated his new solo album: the intersection of numerous well-worn genres, including pop, doo-wop, and indie rock. It’s familiar territory that the Chicago/San Francisco singer-songwriter has explored before, notably with his backing band the Boy-Friends in 2013’s Day of the Dog.
"I'm sick of this record already," Ezra Furman sings midway through his third solo LP. Brutal honesty is a constant in the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter's lyrics: He’s vulnerable, bitter and flawed, with gritty vocals to match. On this album, though, he's closer to self-acceptance, as signaled by the dresses he has worn onstage and on this album's cover.
Sometimes the right record hits you at the right time. My last two months have been in absolute flux, as I find myself packing up and shipping out of the city I’ve called home for eight years to try my luck as a functioning human being elsewhere. I’m not good at dealing with change. Ezra Furman seems to actively seek it out.
After over a decade of writing music reviews for various sites and magazines I can still get surprised, like when I hear something that I should have heard quite some time ago and that only filtered its way through the media to me quite recently. Only last week Bowling For Soup’s “Punk Rock 101” came on the radio and I jumped out of my chair to read the DAB display before the track vanished, such was the reaction it provoked from me. I laughed, which not so many songs make me do, and I was reminded of Fountains Of Wayne in their heyday, and their smartly worded and often more than mildly humorous lyrics.