There are few curses more dire than to be tagged the New Dylan. Anybody remember Steve Forbert these days? So I won’t say it. I’ll keep it vague and say that Ezra Furman’s nasal vocals, harmonica work, and wildly poetic imagery might remind you of somebody.
Ezra Furman is a twenty-year-old kid from Chicago, via Tufts University in Boston. He’s got a band, The Harpoons, and he’s titled his debut album Banging Down the Doors. It’s been out for a couple days now, and you ought to buy it. Today. He has got, as they say, one hell of a Voice. Not much in the way of the vocal kind, mind you. That voice is completely untamed, and often doesn’t bother with trivial little things like pitch. The kind that makes you jolt out of your seat as you hear one startling image and one pithy aphorism after another. The kind that, you know, that other guy came out of the gate with, the freewheelin’ wild kind that cuts through the bullshit and makes you see the whole crazy, beautiful world in new ways:
She is pressing foot to petal, she is zooming straight away
She is swimming in the jukebox of the screaming, driving day
She’s about the age of Mary when she had her wonderboy
She’s an alcohol enthusiast whose dad is unemployed
That’s the way one of Ezra’s songs starts out before careening off into reflections on faith, doubt, Starbucks coffee, premature death, and the peculiar malaise of the times in which we live, all in a neat three minutes and ten seconds. Then he follows that up with a love song to God, who in Ezra’s fervid theological imagination is a middle-aged woman who wears planets for earrings and has international date lines at the corners of her eyes.
These are acoustic songs, for the most part, although they’re a million miles removed from laid-back folky territory. There’s a manic, propulsive energy at work here, and these songs hurtle by at breakneck speed. That other guy once said that he wrote songs so quickly because he couldn’t envision the world lasting much longer, and you get the same sort of feeling listening to these songs. Like Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Ezra Furman sings like his skull is ready to explode. He’s got the world’s biggest migraine, and he spits out his words like machine gun fire, and at times he abandons language altogether and simply howls like a feral wolf. It’s frightening, and it’s brilliant.
I moaned a few weeks ago that I had yet to hear a 5-star album this year. I’ve heard one now. Midway through these extraordinary proceedings Ezra yelps,”This is only our first record, I want you to love me!" Don’t sweat it, ye precocious harpooner. Mission accomplished. These are songs that sink deep, and they draw blood every time.