Ezra Furman’s “Twelve Nudes” is a “Firehose of Frustration”

Ezra Furman

Photos by Jessica Lehman

Ezra Furman is done running away—for now, anyway.

Escape has long been a core theme of the 33-year-old singer’s work. Last year’s Transangelic Exodus made that theme explicit—a concept album about motoring across state lines with an angel lover, encapsulating the queer instinct to seek refuge elsewhere.

But on Twelve Nudes, Furman’s eighth record, she’s had enough. If an older song like “Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill” showed her furtively searching for new identities in a thrift store and escaping the transphobic stares of others, Twelve Nudes finds her snapping back at the catcalls and taunts that follow trans people everywhere; she’s not accepting any further mistreatment. As she tells it, it’s a record that’s years in the making.

“I feel like I began with punk energy and anger, and I was always going to make a punk record,” Furman says. “And finally, it just became intolerable to wait any longer.”

While Furman has tapped into a sense of punk rage before, Twelve Nudes is her most sustained effort to use her impassioned scream as a way of unearthing life’s unyielding pain. In its most intense form, it’s Furman’s deeply-felt Jewish spirituality and queer sexuality that drives her to reflect on the hurt of intergenerational harm. When she sings “Years roll on, and we still have not dealt with our trauma” on “Trauma,” Furman’s voice registers the unresolved weight of living with lifetimes of oppression borne by one’s ancestors and community.

Ezra-Furman-by-Jessica-Lehman-600-1

But struggling to deal with pain runs even deeper for Furman. “My Teeth Hurt” reflects her tendency to push problems away until they become all-consuming, capturing a real-life dental disaster that’s emblematic of her experience to run from all forms of adversity. “It is my default reaction to any discomfort of any kind, to ignore it or avoid it,” Furman says. “And then it becomes a full-blown crisis.”

Despite the pummeling energy carried across many of the record’s 11 tracks, Twelve Nudes’s softer moments find her grappling with the disquieting concerns that persist once the amps cut out. The album’s most arresting moment is “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” Standing in sharp contrast to the high-octane tracks surrounding it, “Girlfriend” has a slight ‘60s girl-group sound, and a matching sense of unrequited longing, as Furman fights for validation in the eyes of a cis lover. While we discuss the specific resonance that the song holds for trans listeners, the beauty and fear of an uncertain sense of becoming, the track still faces out at a cisgender world, often unable to see trans people as we hope to see ourselves.

“When talking about being trans, I tend to hear what it sounds like to people who see gender in the most rigid way,” Furman says. “It’s the yearning of hoping to become something that most people don’t think you can become, to be taken as real.”

No matter who’s listening, there’s no escaping the full-hearted sincerity of “Girlfriend.” As Furman sings, “I sit around all day wishing / That the real me might be the one you want,” drawing the final syllables into pregnant silence, it’s hard to see anything but the person on the other side, holding the power of validation or condemnation that trans people face over and over, in every relationship. “It’s an attempt to convince somebody, almost like a job application: I can be a girl effectively,” she says.

Whatever personal challenges persist, Furman’s focus is directed outwards. At one point in our conversation, she says that the record was almost called Climate Change, admitting “a little bit of regret” that it didn’t stick. It’s an issue that mirrors the record’s wider emphasis on the power of punk catharsis, channeling rage into action, all part of Furman’s mission to turn her fans into activists. Furman calls Twelve Nudes “a firehose of frustration,” and she’s right: it’s a potent, impatient record, years of built-up tension bursting forth with a clarifying sense of righteous anger.

“The more time goes by with us doing nothing about [the world], the worse it becomes,” she says. “I wanted to make myself look at it, feel how bad it felt to look at it, to get myself to respond and to get other people to respond.”

Tanner Howard

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