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EZRA FURMAN

Ezra Furman

Sex Education OST

    Following the success of last year’s “Twelve Nudes”, Ezra Furman returns with Sex Education OST, songs from season 1 and 2 of the hit Netflix TV show. The 19-track LP will be released via Bella Union and is available to download and on DSPs from Friday, 24th January, with a physical release on CD and vinyl to follow on 10th April.

    When the makers of the hit Netflix series Sex Education told Ezra Furman, “We want you to be the Simon & Garfunkel to our The Graduate", they clearly recognised a kindred spirit. Who better to articulate all that awkwardness and alienation than Furman?

    Sex Education is about Otis Milburn, a socially awkward high school student who lives with his sex therapist mother, Jean. In season 1 Otis and his friend Maeve Wiley set-up a sex clinic at school to capitalise on his intuitive talent for sex advice. In season 2, as a late bloomer Otis must master his newly discovered sexual urges in order to progress with his girlfriend Ola whilst also dealing with his now strained relationship with Maeve. Meanwhile, Moordale Secondary is in the throes of a Chlamydia outbreak, highlighting the need for better sex education at the school and new kids come to town who will challenge the status quo.

    The Sex Education soundtrack gathers the original songs that Furman composed for the first series and the brand new second series, whilst adding tracks featured on the show that can be found on prior Furman albums such as “Perpetual Motion People” and “Transangelic Exodus”. Lining up alongside older cover versions of LCD Soundsystem’s ‘ I Can Change’ and Melanie’s ‘The Good Book’ is a new rendition of ‘Devil Or Angel’, The Clovers’ doo-wop jewel from 1956. It all adds up to a bumper 19-track set of Furman’s trademark enthusiastic emotional catharsis.

    “Making music for a TV show was a new experience for me,” she says. “As a fan of many a high school comedy, for example The Breakfast Club and 10 Things I Hate About You, I knew how fun the music can be, and also how emotional. I wanted to rise to the challenge.”

    Furman and her band recorded the new songs in between sessions for a “loud punk record,” namely the exhilarating “Twelve Nudes”, released by Bella Union in 2019. “I decided I’d use the Sex Education project as a place to put my tenderness, my sadness and longing,” she says. “The soft teenage feelings that every adult knows continue long after high school ends.”



    For the first series, Furman was supplied with an extensive description of the show and the episode scripts. For the second series, she says, “They trusted us completely. They were like, ‘you know what to do’. I try to imagine what’s going to be on screen as a jumping-off point, but they don’t need songs that fit, they need songs of a high quality, that come from a real place. That’s why they wanted me, I guess. Also, I guess they noticed an exuberant vulnerability. I lay all my feelings out there.”

    Given Furman’s personal experience at high school, having been closeted with regard to gender and sexuality, she wasn’t method-acting for a second. The new songs allowed her to reconnect to that past, but also the present, as teenager and adult. ‘Amateur’, for example. “I’m an amateur in my heart, and the show is about amateurs,” she says. “About bodies not yet fully formed, and hearts not yet hardened to the world.”

    ‘Every Feeling’ was inspired by a bad bout of depression: “I was so bored of having these feelings year after year, I just wanted to feel them all and get them over with.” ‘Care’ is afflicted by, “the noise of celebrity culture and politics.” Why can’t we just have, as Furman sings, “a world of love and care”? “That’s the dream I hang on to,” she says.

    Songwriting, Furman concludes, “is a way of keeping tabs on what I care most about, the purest stuff, the matters of the heart that don’t expire. It’s what matters to teenagers, and revisiting the teenage perspective has been oddly centering for me. It’s a reminder of what’s important, and the emotional dramas that persist through life.”

    TRACK LISTING

    1. I’m Coming Clean
    2. Love You So Bad
    3. Every Feeling
    4. Dr Jekyl & Mr Hyde
    5. Care
    6. Restless Year
    7. Early Rain
    8. La Madrugada
    9. I Can Change
    10. Amateur
    11. My Zero
    12. The Good Book
    13. Body Was Made
    14. If Only The Wind
    15. Can I Sleep In Your Brain
    16. Devil Or Angel
    17. At The Bottom Of The Ocean
    18. Splash Of Light
    19. The Queen Of Hearts

    Ezra Furman

    Twelve Nudes

      “This is our punk record,” says Ezra Furman, introducing his new album Twelve Nudes, yet another incendiary and inspiring classic from the singer/ songwriter/ guitarist/bandleader. “We made it in Oakland, quickly. We drank and smoked. Then we made the loud parts louder. I hurt my voice screaming. This was back in 2018, when things were bad in the world. The songs are naked with nothing to hide.”

      Immediate proof is offered by ‘Calm Down’ (aka ‘I Should Not Be Alone’), the album’s insanely catchy opening track and lead single, bound up in a compact two minutes and 22 seconds. “’Calm Down’ is so desperate, and not what I want to say about the world,” says Furman. “I think we curate our reactions to current news because we’re overwhelmed by how bad it is, and I noticed I was suppressing how bad I truly felt. I wanted music that gave me permission to feel how it felt to live in a broken world, which punk rock does.”

      Furman’s preceding album, 2018’s Transangelic Exodus, was “an angry and fearful and pent-up reaction to events too,” he recalls. “But it was a carefully written and recorded version; we took a lot of time with edits and overdubs. I knew I wanted I make this album quickly and not spend time thinking how to play the songs. Twelve Nudes is a ‘body’ more than a ‘mind’ record - more animal than intellectual., And by affirming negativity, it gives you energy, to reject stuff. There’s more space for positivity.”

      Far from being defeated by a world in turmoil, Furman’s productivity has only increased the worse things have got - and he’s taken up different disciplines to boot. Between Transangelic Exodus and Twelve Nudes, the 33⅓ imprint published his deeply personal, thoughtful and incisive book on Lou Reed’s legendary 1972 album Transformer, before Furman scored the soundtrack to Netflix’s acclaimed comedy Sex Education (it aired in January 2019), which showcased the tender side of his songwriting.

      But all his pent-up energy had to be channelled somewhere: hence Twelve Nudes, which Furman and band recorded in October and November 2019 before the album was mixed by the venerated producer John Congleton (Sharon van Etten, St Vincent, John Grant). Furman says the album has two spiritual heroes – the late great punk rock rocker Jay Reatard, and Canadian poet, philosopher and essayist Anne Carson. “She’s one of my top three living writers,” he says. “Anne had these visions, or meditations, to deal with the intense pain in her life, which she calls ‘nudes’, and similarly these songs are meditations on pain and recognising what’s there if you go digging around in your anger and fear and anxiety. So, my album is called Twelve Nudes.”

      The positivity of negativity flows throughout the album, distinguished by sharp, lacerating observations, confessions and proclamations, with Furman the indefatigable cheerleader. “And if you’re really at the end of your rope / No you don’t take the night off/ Too many demons to fight off” he wails in ‘Transition From Nowhere To Nowhere’. The song’s slower pace and becalmed verses underlines Twelve Nudes’ musical remit - less stereotypical punk than raw, raucous rock’n’roll (as Furman points out, The Ramones’ punk classicism included songs influenced by Phil Spector ballads). Check also ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ and ‘In America’, shaped respectively by Furman’s love of ‘50s doo-wop and Springsteen, while ‘Trauma’ is molten and leaden like Black Sabbath.

      But in ‘Rated R Crusaders’, ‘Thermometer’, My Teeth Hurt’ (surely the first lyrical reference to “dental insurance”) and the 58-second ‘Blown’, punk rock’s flailing energy is alive and kicking. As the pell-mell finale memorably puts it, given our increasingly moribund and morally bankrupt society, ‘What Can You Do But Rock N Roll’?

      Furman has long sought out rock’n’roll as a panacea for his ills (from ‘Thermometer’: “I got the fever at a tender young age / I joined society and drank the Kool-Aid”). He now lives in Oakland but he grew up in Evanston, a northern suburb of Chicago: at school, “I’d beat myself up for not being a successful, popular kid. I’d lose my homework, get bad grades: they’d call me a space cadet.” But Green Day’s Dookie album woke him up (“the songs were all about being maladjusted, which I began wearing as a badge of honour”), and Green Day led to The Sex Pistols, “and I was never the same again.”

      Fearing for her son’s well-being, his mother bought Furman a book of Dylan songs: “I then thought, I’m going to be a good songwriter.” Lou Reed was another, “devastating” discovery, and from all these influences, Furman’s frayed, emotional brew of garage-rock took shape, backed by bands variously known as the Harpoons, the Boy-Friends and, most recently, the Visions - though for Twelve Nudes, there is no band name. “Right now, I just don’t care,” he declares. “The same as I feel about what gender pronouns people use for me.”

      The issue of gender arose after Furman made a splash with his 2013 album Day Of The Dog (the last album he made this quickly, he says). Finally vindicated and verified, he started to publicly dress on the outside what he had been increasing feeling on the inside, with more frankness in his lyrics about sexuality and gender (he calls Twelve Nudes, like Transangelic Exodus, “a spiritually queer record”).

      The teen angst he’d experienced, from identity crisis to buried feelings, made Furman the ideal candidate to soundtrack Sex Education, mixing older tracks with new (‘Coming Clean’, ‘Every Feeling’ and a cover of ‘Origin Of Love’ from the musical Hedwig & The Angry Inch. Ezra and band also appeared in one episode, at a school dance).

      “This record is political,” says Furman, “but it offers an emotional reaction rather than being specific or partisan.” Furman’s Jewish identity shapes ‘Rated R Crusaders,’ triggered by the Israel/Palestine conflict and its complex web of refugee trauma. ‘Trauma’, meanwhile, seethes with the spiritual malaise brought on by watching wealthy bullies accused of sexual assault rise to power. America, Furman well knows, is balanced on a knife-edge between white male supremacy and the dream of universal opportunity; hence the references to Mexico, slave-owners and US ‘founding father’ Ben Franklin in ‘In America’. As Furman sings, reiterating the spirit of punk rock, and positivity, “Put it all in a two-minute pop song / A really-mean-it-a-lot song for America.”

      “One of my goals in making music is to make the world seem bigger, and life seem larger,” he concludes. “I want to be a force that tries to revive the human spirit rather than crush it, to open possibilities rather than close them down. Sometimes a passionate negativity is the best way to do that.”

      Or, in the words of the fantastic, rousing ‘Evening Prayer’ (aka ‘Justice’): “If you’ve got the taste for transcendence / Then translate your love into action / And participate in the fight now / For a creed you can truly believe.”


      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: He's proper on one here is Ezra, smashing through this snarling, fuzzed out swathe of punky thrashers like he's never done anything else. Thoroughly unexpected, but accomplished with the sort of expertise we've seen from him in a variety of musical subjects. Another instant classic.

      TRACK LISTING

      1 Calm Down Aka I Should Not Be Alone
      2 Evening Prayer Aka Justice
      3 Transition From Nowhere To Nowhere
      4 Rated R Crusaders
      5 Trauma
      6 Thermometer
      7 I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend
      8 Blown
      9 My Teeth Hurt
      10 In America
      11 What Can You Do But Rock 'n' Roll

      Ezra Furman

      Transangelic Exodus

        Transangelic Exodus, Ezra Furman’s second album for Bella Union, is a new landmark for the American singer-songwriter: “not a concept record, but almost a novel, or a cluster of stories on a theme, a combination of fiction and a half-true memoir,” according to its author. “A personal companion for a paranoid road trip. A queer outlaw saga.”

        The music is as much of an intense, dramatic event, full of brilliant hooks, with an equally evolved approach to recorded sound to match Furman’s narrative vision. In honour of this shift, his backing band has been newly christened: The Boy-Friends are dead, long live The Visions. In other words, the man who embodies the title of his last album Perpetual Motion People is still on the move... Or in the vernacular of the new album, on the run.

        “The narrative thread,” Furman declares, “is I’m in love with an angel, and a government is after us, and we have to leave home because angels are illegal, as is harbouring angels. The term ‘transangelic’ refers to the fact people become angels because they grow wings. They have an operation, and they’re transformed. And it causes panic because some people think it’s contagious, or it should just be outlawed.

        “The album still works without the back story, though,” he vouches. “What’s essential is the mood - paranoid, authoritarian, the way certain people are stigmatised. It’s a theme in American life right now, and other so-called democracies.”

        After “Perpetual Motion People” was released in July 2015, Furman had moved back from California (Oakland) to his home town of Chicago. But after a year, he returned to the west coast (Berkeley this time). “I just seem to keep moving,” he sighs. Still, Transangelic Exodus was mostly recorded – as all Furman's records have been since 2011 - at his bandmate (saxophonist/producer) Tim Sandusky’s Ballistico Studios in Chicago, and with the other Visions - Jorgen Jorgensen (bass, and on this album, cello), Ben Joseph (keyboards, guitar) and Sam Durkes (drums/percussion).

        Just as Furman’s band hasn’t really changed, so his musical DNA remains intact – a thrilling, literate form of garage-punk rooted in The Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman and ‘50s rock’n’roll. But Transangelic Exodus is noticeably different to its predecessors. “2016 was a hard year,” Furman recalls. “While the political and cultural conversation devolved in a very threatening way, we travelled and toured a lot. We saw ourselves coming to the end of what we were, and we wanted to become something new.”

        Furman cites Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires Of The City”, Beck’s “Odelay”, Sparklehorse’s “It’s A Wonderful Life”, Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”, Kayne West’s “Yeezus”, Angel Olsen’s “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” and Tune-Yards’ “Who Kill” – “artists making the most interesting music with the available resources” – as influences on Transangelic Exodus, plus Brian Wilson, Bruce Springsteen and James Baldwin’s ground-breaking, gay-themed 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room.

        “My previous records were original in their own way, but got classified as an off-kilter version of a retro band, and I wanted something that sounded more original,” he explains. “So we took time off touring, and made sure we took time with every song. I demoed with different band members, and then combined different demos – some parts even made the final album. So, the sound is more chopped up, edited, affected, rearranged.”

        One prime example is the album’s lead single ‘Driving Down To LA’, a sparse, but explosive, mix of doo-wop and digital crunch. Another is the haunting ‘Compulsive Liar’. “I wrote it as a ballad on a classical acoustic guitar, but we made it stranger, which brought out the emotion of the lyric more than it would have in its original form,” Furman says. “It’s less predictable; you don’t know where the song might go, and that makes me happy.”

        Furman once said, “The opening lines of my records tend to be summary statements.” So, what does, “I woke up bleeding in the crotch of a tree / TV blaring on the wall above the coffee machine” (from ‘Suck The Blood From My Wounds’) say about Transangelic Exodus? “I like the opening lines so much, I had to keep them even though they don’t make a lot of sense! You’re dropped into this story or situation, unsure where you are or what’s going on, and suddenly you’re moving. That’s what being alive feels like to me. Unknown and intense. It’s a big part of the record’s mood.”

        Checking Furman’s successive album covers will show his personal journey, coming out as queer and gender-fluid, which the jagged, agitated ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ meets head on, namely “the painful experience of being a closeted gender-non-conforming person. Having ‘trans’ in the album title has a lot to do with being queer, like [album finale] ‘I Lost My Innocence’ [“…to a boy named Vincent”). That early experience marks the narrator for life. From a young age, because of issues surrounding gender and sexuality, I felt fated to have an outsider perspective. It radicalises you.”

        Transangelic Exodus addresses another kind of coming out, as Furman addresses his Jewish faith on record much more openly than before, from the shivery ballad ‘God Lifts Up the Lowly’ (which includes a verse in Hebrew) to the exquisite ‘Psalm 151’ and the line “I believe in God but I don't believe we're getting out of this one” in ‘Come Here Get Away From Me’, a heady blend of rock’n’roll rumble and ghostly clarinet.

        “There is a lot of longing and anger in those songs,” Furman reckons. “A longing for God, and God’s help, wondering how long this can go on. It feels like we’re in exile – the innocent, persecuted, oppressed and threatened. But it’s hard in pop culture to make explicitly religious statements, as many people – including myself - have been hurt by religion.”

        Part of Furman’s motivation is the, “fear of fascist takeover,” expressed in the video to ‘Driving Down To L.A’ (filmed in Virginia, and uncannily storyboarded before the state’s infamous Charlottesville “Unite The Right” rally), as Ezra and his angel are pursued by modern-day Nazis. “At school, we learned all about the Holocaust, and were invited to imagine what would happen if the Nazis invaded again. As white supremacy has become more explicitly institutionalised in the US, my childhood nightmares have started to show up in songs.”

        Crossing between love, gender, sexuality and religion, and singing in solidarity with the innocent, persecuted, oppressed and threatened, Ezra Furman has soundtracked the current fear and loathing across America like no other, while pushing ahead with his own agenda, always on the move.

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: Furman's most fiery and conceptual piece yet, dealing with modern political and identity issues in a sensitive and clever way. Littered with moments of jaw-dropping songwriting and perfectly measured switches, Transangelic Exodus is another outstanding album from the ever-talented Furman.

        TRACK LISTING

        Suck The Blood From My Wound
        Driving Down To L.A
        God Lifts Up The Lowly
        No Place
        The Great Unknown
        Compulsive Liar
        Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 At Goodwill
        From A Beach House
        Love You So Bad
        Come Here Get Away From Me
        Peel My Orange Every Morning
        Psalm 151
        I Lost My Innocence

        Ezra Furman

        Perpetual Motion People

          ‘Perpetual Motion People’, Ezra Furman’s first album for Bella Union, offers 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.

          TRACK LISTING

          Restless Year
          Lousy Connection
          Hark! To The Music
          Haunted Head
          Hour Of Deepest Need
          Wobbly
          Ordinary Life
          Tip Of A Match
          Body Was Made
          Watch You Go By
          Pot Holes
          Can I Sleep In Your Brain
          One Day I Will Sin No More


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