“And I walk through the valley
Of the shadow of the fabulous four”
This album doesn’t begin, it explodes. Thudding drum and ominous, deadened piano chords hang for a moment heavy with threat, briefly preceding a punk blitzkrieg of fuzzing guitar, amphetamine beat and an eruption of snarling vocals, Ezra Furman informing us “I wanna destroy something/I wanna destroy myself”. The violence and the anger are clear, but the spice of throaty sax tells us that he’s out to set down something far beyond inchoate noise or any primitive garage thrash freakout.
Ezra Furman is a Chicago-based indie-rocker who has had 4 studio albums recording with his previous band, The Harpoons. Alongside his current line-up, trading under the name of Ezra Furman & The Boyfriends, Day Of The Dog is their second long player for Bar None Records. I’m not personally familiar with Furman’s back-catalogue but, on the strength of this record, I’m very much looking forward to getting acquainted.
‘Tell ‘Em All to Go to Hell’ is a dark 50’s groover, the sound of a formica and neon diner on an archetypal fratboy Friday night, Chevys and Cadillacs lined gleaming outside, but the real scene within the bright diner is of a generation who are damaged, deranged and haunted by their own apocalyptic folklore. Rather than conjuring the inherent romance normally evoked by the contagious greaser beat and the irrepressibly joyful bounce of the sax, the jiving teenagers are gnawed hollow with the frustrations and sadness of life that are far more universal than merely adolescent, or ordinarily found within boy-meets-girl twelve bar blues.
Furman’s magic malice is briefly sedated (though it still retains a caustic bite despite the throwaway essence of the track) for the pure pop perfection of this album’s first single, ‘My Zero’. It’s an immediately beguiling piece of dashboard-tapping gold; jilted-lover lamentations over warm acoustic guitar, cruising percussion, those ever-loving saxophones and a synth foundation of bitter-sweet beauty. Resistance to its assured charms is futile.
That brief departure in to floating colour is swiftly and brutally punctured by the arrival of the title-track. Furman is in his most Lennon-raw register (although he gets equally close to Dr. Winston O’Boogie later on with the rasping wail of ‘And Maybe God Is A Train’ and ‘Been So Strange’), raking his half-strangled sneer over a hesitant, funereal piano progression and guitar crunch. The lyrical landscape is grimly Biblical and combative. “From the bums on the street to the prisoners inside/From the losers cast out to the runaway child/And the wandering slave through the wilderness fog/They’re all lying in wait for the day of the dog”.
‘Walk On In Darkness’ is maybe the album’s most Dylan-esq in terms of vocal delivery and it kicks along with a jagged rockabilly restlessness. “Walk on in darkness and I will not understand/Walk on in darkness, black, opaque and devious.” At one point Furman literally growls like a beaten dog biding its vengeful time just before the second verse, and it seems like a completely organic sound, unrehearsed, as though he’s authentically sickened and impatient with the human business of verbalising his despair. It’s a song of defeat and fury, a track that’s not striking a lyrical or stylistic pose: the man who inhabits this sound is smashing his head against the fucking wall.
The rage subsides, or rather shifts to a different focus, for ‘Cold Hands’, perhaps the closest this fundamentally twisted album edges toward something which could be termed a love song. The simple blues-rock acoustic riff of the first verse graduates to a searing crescendo of piano as the sensual declaration unwinds. “I’m at your bedroom window tonight/Scratching up on the glass/I wanna be held in your cold hands”.
On ‘Anything Can Happen’ bright piano and thigh-squeezing riff are juxtaposed again with the wild-eyed anger at the heart of this whole record. The rolling elegance of the piano and skiffle shuffle of the percussion returns with ‘The Mall’, a song about the adrenaline, confusion and euphoria we madden ourselves with after a healthy dose of strange and unexpected sex.
With ‘Slacker / Adria’ Furman dials his tone down to a Velvet Underground, rolling his tongue (firmly in cheek) emphatically in to the narcotic sardonic realm of dear-departed Reed, “How’m I gonna find a new drummer? Been playing with him since last summer” he drawls. As the title suggests, this is two songs sewn together or, possibly, it’s some species of miniature opera. The rhythm cuts and shifts at the end of the second verse and we’re elevated beyond cute irony and pastiche, a new poetic voice emerges. The ‘Adria’ section is a soaring incantation, “And sometimes in the night when I’m out of my senses/I see a wide-open country without any fences/I see white crosses burning across a dark landscape/And there’s no hidden keys and there’s no secret handshake.”
This is an album of restless rock and roll perfection. It’s a creature rising forth from the exact science of vintage pop mutated with a malicious punk Frankenstein, the creation of a charming monster which has been sharing a filthy bed with Buddy Holly, John Lennon and Lou Reed, among others.
It’s a work of boot-stomping nihilistic punk flavoured with polite hand-clap and finger-click rhythms. Leather-jacketed garage dirt-groove carried toward daylight by boisterous brass. It’s not so much ‘Darkness At The Edge of Town’, it’s more an intrinsic black void festering within the broken heart of the universe. This is a record of a sickness in the mind and soul; its world is corrupt, bleak and nightmarish. Ezra Furman’s genius lies in blending this deep-seated melancholia against the brisk, brash and enlivening force of its rock, its roll, its refusal to lie down.
Pick up a copy of Day Of The Dog now from iTunes.