Detail of a Christian revival banner by an unknown artist, c. 1930
In 2009, I went to see Ezra Furman & the Harpoons play a great (if under-attended) show in town - after the show, I asked Furman when the next Harpoons album was coming out. He bemoaned the difficulty he was having getting a label interested, in spite of some great buzz around his Illinois-based band's previous album, Inside the Human Body. This was disappointing - he'd played some great new material at the show, and I'd really enjoyed two songs he'd performed for Daytrotter earlier in 2009. "Mysterious Power" and "Wild Feeling" seemed to be a big step forward from the material from his first two albums (as much as I'd loved those).
Now, two years after that Daytrotter session, Furman's new album Mysterious Power has quietly been released through Red Parlor Records. I say "quietly" because this record is getting nowhere near the buzz it deserves. A concept album of sorts about a young man who has retreated to his bedroom after a bad breakup, Mysterious Power features some of Furman's best songwriting to date. As usual, the songs neatly divide between rootsy rocking numbers with Furman spewing lyrics in his tuneful whine and poetic Dylan-style ballads. A couple of the songs skew too far one direction or the other - "Bloodsucking Whore" tries a little too hard to be menacing, and "Don't Turn Your Back on Love" is an amusing travelogue that wears out its welcome around the five-minute mark - but Furman has a few new tricks to display as welll.
Mysterious Power's opener, "Wild Rosemarie", has some great atmospheric touches to separate it from the other ballads, and "Teenage Wasteland" has a folky boisterousness a la the Pogues. But the two songs that anchor the album are the ones that come from that 2009 Daytrotter session. "Mysterious Power" has lost none of the, er, mysterious power of that original performance and is a great slice of wistful acoustic pop, and album closer "Wild Feeling" is a melancholy number with some nice internal-rhyming lyrics that get me legitimately choked up sometimes. While Mysterious Power was definitely worth the wait, I'm hoping the word will get out about this record, and we don't have to wait so long for Furman's next set of songs. He's only 23 (24?) years old at this point, so I think he'll be writing songs for the foreseeable future but, when you're dealing with a songwriting talent of this caliber, you want to see his evolution and progress in real time if you can.
"Mysterious Power" by Ezra Furman & the Harpoons