Like a lot of people, Ezra Furman has been alarmed by the “broken world,” as he calls it, that has emerged over the past few years. It shows in his music. Though the Oakland singer has long channeled his disaffection into his songs, he’s never done it with as much immediacy as on Twelve Nudes.
Furman’s latest is the rapid-fire follow-up to his 2018 album, Transangelic Exodus, and in many ways, it’s the jagged flip-side. Though Transangelic Exodus was also a reaction to the regressive shitstorm swirling outward from Washington D.C., the album had a certain polish. By contrast, Twelve Nudes has a punk edge that is chaotic and raw, made in a hurry with a first-thought, best-thought sensibility that sprays psychic shrapnel in every direction. It’s also catchy as hell.
Furman establishes a mood right away on opener “Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone,” an electric jolt of a song that starts with a taut bassline boinging away under the snap of a snare drum. Savage, overdriven guitar comes ripping through the beat after a few seconds, and then Furman begins to sing in a voice that sounds like he just finished coughing up shards of broken glass. He unleashes a torrent of words with an urgency that borders on desperation, as if he had been holding back until the pressure caused him to burst. Though his pace is more measured on “Trauma,” the intensity is every bit as palpable. Scabrous guitars loud enough to shred speaker cones crackle around a sludgy, battering-ram rhythm as Furman sings about people who deliberately take rash actions to push back against the crushing weight of an oppressive and depraved social order. “The mind snaps and economies collapse / When the one who works hardest gets the smallest reward,” he sings, angry but controlled while he delivers a fierce indictment of late capitalism.
Though Twelve Nudes is certainly a political album, it’s rooted in Furman’s emotional reaction to politics, which makes these 11 songs more personal than polemical. His acerbic sense of humor helps in that regard: Furman augments his physical discomfort on “My Teeth Hurt” with wry exasperation when he notes his lack of dental insurance, pausing his diatribe just long enough for instrumental breaks packed with cyclones of blaring guitars. He uses humor as a cover while exploring his gender fluidity on “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend,” a slower song with a torchy vibe. Instead of following the example of his responsible friends seeking jobs, or his intellectual friends seeking truth, Furman is attempting to lure a love interest, leering ever so slightly as he promises to blow his hetero-leaning crush’s, er, mind if he can overlook Furman’s “less than ideal” physical characteristics.
It’s a brash come-on from a singer with enough confidence to say what’s on his mind, and the talent to express it in songs you want to listen to over and over. Twelve Nudes is loud, sometimes sarcastic, often pointed and invariably entertaining. The album is the work of an artist with a keen sense of his own capabilities, and it’s a fitting soundtrack to a world in turmoil.