Every once in a while a album comes along that is so overwhelming its almost impossible to review. All of us Flames, Ezra Furman’s latest release on the Bella Union label is one of those records. While her music and lyrics have been creating waves and generating interest for years, All of us Flames pushes her into the category of a once in a generation talent.
That might sound like hyperbole to some, but like Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, and Bruce Springsteen before her she manages to not only give her personal community a voice, but does so in a way anybody can identify with what she is singing about. Sure her lyrics are queer and trans centric, but you’d have to have a mind rusted shut and a heart of stone not to cherish the ideas and the emotions expressed on this album.
Furman’s last release, Twelve Nudes, was a primal scream of a punk album raising a voice of outrage against injustice. While All of us Flames may not be as musically aggressive as the former, lyrically it takes listeners to places not often travelled. The songs hit on almost a visceral level, making you cry or inspiring anger, without you even knowing why.
There’s something about them that triggers a reaction. Even after the initial listen, when the surprise and the wonder have worn away, the songs don’t diminish in power. It is the mark of just how gifted a songwriter Furman is that not only do the songs retain the impact of the initial listen but each time you listen to them you find something new to wonder at.
From the opening track, “Train Comes Through”, to the closing “Come Close”, the songs deal with both the heartbreak and anger at being part of marginalized community. This album is a cry of defiance in a world which would prefer trans and queer people would just shut up and go away.
However Furman isn’t about to go away or shut up. In fact her songs not only advocate for trans and queer rights, they encourage people to fight back. In the song “Lilac & Black” Furman sings, “So now I’m calling out to all the stations ‘cross the underground/Gather all your savages and send ’em out/If you get the signal come defend the crown/That nobody knows you wear/We’re out here on the attack/We wear the lilac and black/We might not make it back/We wear the lilac and black”
Calls to arms come in many forms, not just taking to the streets. There’s also standing up for what you know to be true. In the song “Book of Our Names” Furman sings about shedding dead names and embracing the name that epitomizes your true identity. “And the names will be the real ones that are ours/Not the ones given us by enemy powers/But the ones that we know in our bones and bowels/And they’ll be said out loud and repeated.”
While anger is understandable, what truly gives this album its emotional depth is Furman’s compassion and empathy. She’s not only able to see the marginalized in society, but her own community as well.
“Come Close” is a beautiful and haunting song about those who are left out of the Pride marches and the corporate rainbow flag decals you now see adorning chain stores and banks. “The desperate ones don’t disappear/We’re all still hanging around/And what do your Rainbows do?And what do your bright flags do?What do your rainbows do here on the ground.”
In All of us Flames Furman comes across like a mixture of a biblical prophet looking to lead her people to a promised land, a street fighter, and a caring sister. For all of you feeling oppressed and hopeless in the face of those who would deny your existence, be it gender identification, skin colour, or anything else – this album was written for you. For the rest of world, listen and maybe learn – even a little – of what it’s like to be on the outside just wanting to be accepted for who you are.
All of us Flames is not only one of the best albums of this year, but one of the best of the past decade. Defiant, proud, and intelligent its the soundtrack we need to fight back against those who would deny anybody their basic rights.