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Ezra Furman: An angelic voice in America

America’s fallen angels

Plus, the bad boy of British opera strikes again and other musical notes

Plus, the bad boy of British opera strikes again and other musical notes

February/March 2018

Ezra Furman (above) is on a mission. His new album, Transangelic Exodus, tells of falling in love with an angel with whom he flees across America because angels have been declared illegal. Given Furman’s Judaism, his gender-fluidity and the fact that his angels are humans who have had wings surgically implanted, it doesn’t take much to realise that the album is a metaphor for oppression. Before you turn your back on his music, concerned that it’s a joyless exploration of identity politics, listen up. His songwriting marries vulnerability to pop melodies that burst with vitality, like the riff that powers the chorus of “Suck the Blood from My Wound”. Just as irresistible is “Love You So Bad”, a track which ELO’s Jeff Lynne might have come up with had his politics and gender been different. As with almost all albums based on a concept, the idea underpinning “Transangelic Exodus” doesn’t ultimately matter. Whatever the backstory, it’s a record that sounds in love with pop itself.~ MICHAEL HANN
Transangelic Exodus Feb 9th

Bad boy gone good
The first time Mark-Anthony Turnage (left), a British composer, wrote for the Royal Opera House (ROH), he raised a number of eyebrows. In “Anna Nicole” (2011) he took a thoroughly modern fable – of the beautiful young Playboy Playmate who married an 89-year-old billionaire – and told it outrageously well. Turnage’s omnivorous musical intelligence (his influences range from jazz to Led Zeppelin) helped to skewer the vulgarity at the story’s rotten core.

Now he’s back, minus the sex and strippers. Any opera by Turnage is an event, and while a children’s novel is not obvious fare for the former bad boy of British music, his take on Neil Gaiman’s fantasy, Coraline – produced by the ROH along with Opéra de Lille, Melbourne’s Victorian Opera and Theater Freiburg – should be unmissable. At the heart of the work, Turnage reckons, is the principle that “we shouldn’t be afraid to do what we believe is right.” Coming from someone who has never flinched from his own uncompromising musical message, that makes perfect sense. ~ CLEMENCY BURTON-HILL
Coraline Barbican Theatre, London, Mar 29th-Apr 7th

A room of one’s own
On the banks of the Spree, five miles upstream from central Berlin, sits the Funkhaus (the delicious German word for “broadcasting centre”), a colossal 1950s building that once housed East Germany’s state broadcaster. Now it is home to hundreds of recording artists, including Nils Frahm, a contemporary classical pianist and composer, who spent two years building his studio there in order to realise the harmonies in his head. With the help of his friends and collaborators, he fashioned a pipe organ from scratch, constructed a mixing desk, fine-tuned the acoustics of the room’s wood panelling and rewired its cables: a major step up from the composer’s old bedroom studio.

You can hear the difference on his new album, All Melody. Hours of experimentation have gone into “Sunson” and “#2”, epic synth tracks made for euphoric performances, while chanting vocals, electronica and piano combine on songs like “My Friend the Forest”, an intimate affair on which can be heard not just the piano’s keys but also its mechanical cracks and groans. “All Melody” sounds vital, liberated and limitless: a testament to the worth of a musical room of one’s own.~ JAMES MANNING
All Melody out now

Refugee rock
Imagine you are a refugee, far from home and in search of sanctuary. The journey is arduous but, still, a voice inside your head urges you on. When Murat Ertel, a Turkish psychedelic rocker, settled in to his studio in Istanbul to begin writing a new album, he wondered what that voice might say. With the help of Dirtmusic, an American-Australian band, he recorded Bu Bir Ruya, an album that takes us on the run to the border. On the way it introduces a clutch of different voices that sing and speak, in English and Turkish, about hunger, haggling and the longueurs of the route, about scornful strangers and indifferent, sometimes cruel, authorities.

With galloping drums, ragged guitars and the hypnotic whine of the saz, a long-necked lute, this is an ensaring album full of the joys and dangers of chasing hope. It makes you glad you could come on the journey, for a while at least, and grateful, as the record ends, that for most of us this experience is, as the album title says, nothing but a dream. ~ CHARLIE McCANN
Bu Bir Ruya out now