Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman's fourth solo album, is the most varied, dreamy, restless, sparse, and cinematic outing of his career. He describes it as "a combination of fiction and half-true memoir...a paranoid road trip...a queer outlaw saga." His protagonist is in love with an angel; the government is after them. Angels are illegal -- as is harboring them. "Transangelic" refers to the notion here that humans can grow wings and become angels after a surgical procedure. Some believe this is contagious, while others are offended and want it outlawed.
Opener "Suck the Blood from My Wound" recalls Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" in its need for flight, even if it's into oblivion. The protagonist is escaping from a hospital to break out his transangel and get somewhere safe. He's driving 90 in a red Camaro. Amid driving acoustic and electric guitars, doo wop choruses, and wonky synths: "...Even the deepest wounds will heal over time/I'll run my fingers over your scars, and yours over mine...We're off the grid, we're off our meds, we're finally out on our own...." The tango intro to "Driving Down to L.A." gives way to crunchy industrial sounds as the pair runs from Satan himself -- personified as a physical manifestation of hate and fear. Once more, early doo wop choruses float into the sonic maelstrom as the provocative confessional inspiration of Lou Reed's Street Hassle and Growing Up in Public winds its way into Furman lyrics: "There's one law and I know no other/It's the law of love I'm bound to/Drive me faster...." Wonderfully ramshackle ballads are cannily added as interludes: in the lilting "God Lifts Up the Lowly," we get direct affirmation of Furman's Jewish faith as he expresses hope. (He's a realist too, however: in "Come Here Get Away from Me," he sings "I believe in God, but I don't think we're gettin' outta this one..." to a slippery, slow, flamenco-inflected blues.)
In "Compulsive Liar," we hear guilt and regret about the lies his protagonist lived as a closeted teen. The insane cross-tracked rhythms and distorted guitars in "Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill" are juxtaposed with lyrics that confess his bone-deep desire for the thrift-shop item as an epiphany about his true self. It confronts the problems posing within his culture -- but his resolve to continue his dark, heroic Thelma and Louise journey continues. The innocent "Love You So Bad" is led by a pulsing cello, holding the melody line as Andy Kim-esque bubblegum harmonies carry the refrain. It's a beautiful love song containing all the grit and grime of heady desire from one emerging from the shadows. Transangelic Exodus is a scrappy yet poignant rock & roll narrative of inner conflict and acceptance; its songs are a confessional and confrontational commentary on a historic period when so much is possible, even as fear, hate, and paranoia still hold the reins of power. Its energy, vulnerability, rage, and crafty poetics are awe-inspiring.