“We may all be subordinated but we hear everything”, Ezra Furman sings on ‘Train Comes Through’, the opening track on her sixth album ‘All of Us Flames’. It’s a lyric indicative of the journey that the record will take us on. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this album is about and for the “subordinated”: the Chicagoan has unflinchingly used her music to elevate marginalised voices, using chamber-like, orchestral indie-rock to communicate the magnitude of her task.
Furman’s music has always shape-shifted, whether it’s via sound and theme. While the new album arrives as the third instalment of a trilogy (with 2018’s ‘Twelve Nudes’ and 2019’s ‘‘Transangelic Exodus’ its forebears), it also feels distinct: with ‘…Flames’, the juxtaposition of palpable anger and abundant hope of queer people is more defined.
Standout track ‘Lilac and Black’ features charging, heavy-set drums that sound like a vengeful call to arms, but lyrically it’s about the exhilaration to be felt in finding community. “Tonight I’m dreaming of my queer girl gang / We who walk this deadly path”, she sings in her signature drawl.
Though the album encapsulates the struggle of a collective community of queer people who emerge from a semi-secret society, it also encompasses the intersections of Furman’s experiences – that of being a transgender woman and Jewish. Religion and queerness is an oft-discussed topic that, more often than not, places those two elements in stark contrast to each other. But without being preachy, the musician teases out their co-ordinance – namely that the Bible is mostly concerned with uplifting the weak.
On ‘Poor Girl A Long Way From Heaven’, Furman describes a meeting with God: “God came down to talk to me / threw a stone at the window to get my attention”. It directly opposes the conservative teaching that God and religion shuns communities like hers. Today, transness is often treated as a purely contemporary matter, but Furman cleverly weaves in these ancient concepts .
It can feel a little heavy and dragging, which leaves you to wonder: for once, might a more stripped-back approach work better to really deliver the intended message? The album’s expansiveness leaves space for the superfluous – particularly on ‘Ally Sheedy for the Breakfast Club’. Where it works best is that clear marriage of anger and aspiration, interwoven with Furman’s melodic drawl, musical tenderness and reverb. In parts, though, ‘All of Us Flames’ is an example that sometimes less is more.
Release date: August 26
Record label: Bella Union