When Ezra Furman released Day of the Dog in 2013, it was a last throw of the dice before giving up music. The ecstatic reaction to that album didn’t just convince him to continue, it stoked his ambition on the two albums that followed, Perpetual Motion People and Transangelic Exodus, the latter of which was as confounding as it was brilliant. Twelve Nudes, which is almost entirely a punk rock album (only I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend harks back to doo-wop and rock’n’roll), might sound like a step back, but really it is tightly focused on one aspect of his writing: despair.
A raging hopelessness permeates Twelve Nudes. Sometimes it’s that of others: “What makes a man take a hammer in his hand / Shatter every last window of the company store?” Furman asks on Trauma. Sometimes it’s his own: “I refuse to call this living ‘life’ and I refuse to die,” he pleads on My Teeth Hurt. And sometimes it is the whole of America, as on the song of that name: “I don’t give a shit what Ben Franklin intended / What slaveowner men said – glad they’re all dead.” Even when he offers hope (Evening Prayer AKA Justice), the ferocity of the delivery – both his and the band’s – makes it plain there will be no redemption without struggle.
It’s the harshest record he has made. The absence of saxophonist Tim Sandusky means there is no softness to the corners, just jagged edges – but the melodies are still indelible, the hooks still exhilarating. It’s the sound of someone exploding.