Out today on Bella Union is ‘Twelve Nudes’, the electrifying new album from the one and only Ezra Furman.
“Twelve Nudes is our punk record,” says Ezra Furman. “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.
“Desperate times make for desperate songs” says Furman. “I wrote this in the summer of 2018, a terrible time. It’s the sound of me struggling to admit that I’m not okay with the current state of human civilization, in which bad men crush us into submission. Once you admit how bad it feels to live in a broken society, you can start to resist it, and imagine a better one.”
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), 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 2018 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 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.”
“A raging hopelessness permeates Twelve Nudes, but the melodies are still indelible, the hooks still exhilarating… It’s the sound of someone exploding.” The Guardian – 4 stars ****
“America’s most refreshing indie artist… A short, sharp album, the eleven intense tracks spanning 28 minutes leave you yearning for more.” The Sun – 4 stars ****
“A remarkable talent.” The i (Album of the Week)
“Twelve Nudes is visceral… An extraordinary record… This re–queering of pop hasn’t come a minute too soon.” Metro – 4 stars ****
“A howl as savage and desperate as the age… Religion, gender identity, abusive politicians and existential angst entwined into a primal gutter punk roar.” Classic Rock – 8/10
“Furman has come into his own with this… A rambunctious, exciting album about modern life and it’s unavoidable tensions.” The Times – 4 stars ****
“Twelve Nudes is a call to arms built on John Lydon’s ‘Anger is an Energy’ mantra, awash with swagger and smart soundbites.” Sunday Times (Album of the Week)
“Righteous but abundantly melodious punk… He channels the wild, life–affirming energy of the Ramones and New York Dolls into something cathartic and rapturous… Twelve Nudes is a deliriously fun, seriously thought–provoking record that manages to gratify on every level.” Q – 4 stars ****
“Given that matters in America (and beyond) have only worsened since his last broadside, Furman has chosen to surrender to negativity and pain to deliver some kind of catharsis… Twelve Nudes’ unbridled howl, mania and joy is on the nose.” MOJO – 4 stars ****
“In unleashing an indictment of the ills afflicting society, Furman not only creates a stunning protest record, he also stands as an example for action, channeling his power as a musician to illuminate systematic abuse and the lives it plagues.” Uncut – 8/10
“One of the best blatantly queer rock albums in years.” DORK – 5 stars *****
“At 11 songs and just over 25 minutes, it all makes for a short, sharp, exhilarating blast.” The Observer
“Furman turns anger into a howl of resistance… His most urgent and cathartic record to date.” The Independent – 4 stars ****
“Thrilling… Anyone who says rock music has stopped making protest songs is talking balls. Play them Twelve Nudes.” Long Live Vinyl – 9/10
“Anger is an energy on Ezra Furman’s new album… Blazing with explosive tunes and throat–shredding fervour, Twelve Nudes leads by example.” Record Collector – 4 stars ****
“Twelve Nudes bleeds the hot, red blood of a man frustrated, confused and intensely pained by the state of our political and emotional dissonance. This is an album for losing your shit to.” London In Stereo
“A furious stroll through rock’n’roll’s park.” Loud & Quiet – 8/10
Twelve Nudes is out now on Bella Union.