Ezra Furman is a restless warrior. He well-established this on his first two solo albums and with his late band the Harpoons. One has only ever needed to hear a few of his songs to realize that he’s a guy who can’t sit still, not even inside his head. He is always brimming with manic energy and his new album, Perpetual Motion People, finds him at his most manic yet. His head fires off ideas left and right, every cylinder in constant over-drive, and it’s a fascinating listen. You just wouldn’t want to listen to it when you’re trying to chill out. But then that much should be obvious with an album called Perpetual Motion People. “That’s who it was made by and that’s who it’s for,” he recently said. “People who feel they can never settle.”
It’s very difficult to categorize Furman’s music. Here, he constantly shifts between funkified indie pop, frenzied rock and an agitated version of the blues. If you’re familiar with Ben Lee, well, Furman is the exact opposite of Ben Lee. There’s nothing glittery or super focused about Furman’s music, his songs often feeling like random tangents. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. If you like eclectic albums that veer north, south, east and west, you’ll be like a dog with a big, new bone when you hear this.
The album begins with a funky, punky and almost rockabilly song called “Restless Year,” which puts you in the chaotic mindset Furman was in when he made the album with his current band, which he refers to as The Boyfriends. “Death is my own Tom Sawyer,” he sings and it’s practically a cry for help. If your friend wrote this song and played it for you then you would probably have him or her committed. It’s the sound of someone in crisis. Fortunately, we know that Furman had his creativity to keep him going and came up with an incredible album while coping.
’50’s doo-wop was clearly an influence behind “Lousy Connection,” one of the most focused songs on the album. “I’ve got the world’s ear, I’m all fucking mumbles,” he sings. “I guess I’m just another link in a chain” There are two things that make this song marvelous. One, we get to hear what Furman sounds like when he’s not screaming his head off; and he sounds great. Two, it’s loaded with seriously killer saxophone playing.
“Haunted Head” finds Furman painting a picture — of how his brain works — calmly for a change. “I take these aimless drives from 2 am to 4,” he sings. “By morning there’s nobody at the wheel.” While the album is full of self-deprecation, he seems more accepting of himself here and the result is a lovely indie pop song jazzed up with doo-wop swing.
“I’m sick of this record already,” begins “Ordinary Life,” a song roughly halfway through the album that is about, well, being sick of ordinary life. While he sings about losing the will to live in Boston, floating and waiting to die, the song isn’t intended to inspire suicides. Quite the opposite in fact, “Just because you’re sick of your ordinary life / Doesn’t mean you should bottle up and die,” he sings after recounting the history of his own depression. He’s stated that the song is inspired by transgender American author, playwright, performance artist and gender theorist Kate Bornstein, whom he quotes as saying, “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.”
Other noteworthy tracks? “Tip Of The Match” is an ambitious and pleasant exercise in distorted funk combined with power pop. “Body Was Made” is a sweet and melodious number with blaring horns that hook you while he sings about self-love. And “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” begins like a gentle ballad, giving one an idea of what Furman would be like on benzos, before it turns into a frenzied but beautiful mess.
If nothing else, Perpetual Motion People finds Furman digging deep into his brain. And you know what they say: the deeper the dig, the better the bounty. This is a wonderful tribute to the extremes our brains can go to and how we must find ways to persevere through them. It’s the light at the end of Furman’s very dark tunnel. Listen to this album and follow him to it.