Day of the Dog by Ezra Furman
With Chicagoan Ezra Furman’s fifth album, he further proves himself to be not only an adventurous songwriter and musician, but also possibly the most unique voice in underground music. Furman released his first recordings with his band, the Harpoons, while still in college eight years ago.
Playing earnest and dementedly humorous punky folk-rock in the vein of the Violent Femmes, and singing with an emotive, nervous yelp, he gained a sizable following and high praise from critics. Since then, he has left his boisterous band and headed out on his own. Given this change, and the growing market for semi-polite indie songwriters with polished, layered instrumentation, one might expect Furman to tame his wilder muses and aim for a wider audience. This, fortunately, is not the case.
The album begins with a pounding drum and a hoarse declaration that “all the world is rising up like vomit,” which segues into an explosion of loud, messy, beautiful noise. This incredibly eccentric album delves into a variety of sounds from classic underground, punk, folk, and early rock and roll, yet none is cliched. Every song bears the thumbprint of Furman’s distinctive lyrical and musical style, and more importantly, genuine emotion.
In every way, this music defies description. Similar to his last album in theme, though not in execution, Furman tackles isolation, desperation, spirituality, and America’s growing culture of nihilism and materialism. With such topics, another artist might seem heavy-handed or overtly scholarly, but when Furman sings, you know he is genuine. The writing and delivery are clear and powerful, exuding a natural empathy for the downtrodden and anxiety over the future. Lines like “I am broken wide open, bleeding everywhere” or “sometimes in the night when I’m out of my senses, I see a wide open country with no sign of fences” pack a punch and rattle around the listener’s mind long after the final note.
Musically, he does what is usually impossible. He took a slew of contradictory styles that lesser artists often rip off, tossed them into a blender, and instead of making something unsavory or familiar, has, with just pure skill and enthusiasm, created something brilliant.
There is an unstoppable, manic energy in these 13 tracks. Still, every chaotic song is complicated and impeccably well done, despite sounding unrehearsed and spontaneous. A loud, ripping saxophone is featured heavily, adding to the colorful chaos that further separates Furman from the lump of indie singer-songwriters.
“Walk On in Darkness” comes off as punkish Tom Waits, as he growls, sighs, and yelps while the sax and viscous instrumentation cast a strange, surreal feel. In what is probably the most jaw-dropping song, Furman struts Lou Reed-like through the first few minutes of “Slacker Adria,” his voice intertwined with blistering guitarwork, before the song soars into prophetic lyrics and muscular guitar, finishing with a swell of noise.
On another highlight, “My Zero,” Furman shows his skill at creating pop music. A love song on the surface, underneath it is a longing fantasy of a lost, surreal America. It makes prominent use of a bright sax, which, by the end slips into tense, broken blares.
Furman (with help from his band, the Boyfriends) has poured his heart into “Day of the Dog” and created the best kind of album. You can feel its thumping pulse, and every listen reveals more.