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Ezra Furman Brings Indie Charm

Carrie Turek | Thursday, March 1, 2012

After listening to “A Year of No Returning,” it will certainly be difficult to turn back from Ezra Furman.

Steeped in independent charm and full of Furman’s signature witty lyrics, “A Year of No Returning” is a true success.

Furman self-released his first solo album Feb. 7. He is the lead singer and songwriter of the folksy, alternative band, “Ezra Furman and the Harpoons.”

Furman was raised in Evanston, Ill. and he and the Harpoons began their careers with a following on the indie music scene in Chicago and on the east coast.

 Furman and the other Harpoons (Job Mukkada, Adam Abrutyn and Andrew Langer, who Furman met while at Tufts University) take a personalized, self-made approach to their music.

Their third and most recent album, “Mysterious Power” was released on April 5, 2011. Fans who ordered this album online received copies in hand-addressed envelopes.

Those who pre-ordered Furman’s “The Year of No Returning” were promised hand-written, individualized album covers.

It is these details and close contact with fans that make Furman and his music so appealing.

Despite Furman’s departure from his three band mates on “The Year of No Returning,” his songs retain their signature charm, made up of gravely, whiny vocals belting out deep, poetic lyrics.

“The Year of No Returning” breaks away from the Harpoons’ usual style, with its use of saxophone, clarinet and bells.

Furman takes the opportunity, on his solo album, to explore various new instrumentations, which serve to enhance his already self-explorative and introspective style and lyrics.

On “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” the use of bassoon, bass guitar, clarinet and bells unite to form a strange Western sound. This song is contagious and extremely easy to listen to.

It has a strong bass line that seems to run counter to Furman’s melody.

As the opening track on “The Year of No Returning,” “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” makes a strong first impression.

“Sinking Slow” is an unexpected, unclassifiable piece of “The Year of No Returning.” At its start, it immediately sends shivers through your spine.

With the tinny reverberations layered underneath the moody and simple piano and violin introduction, this track begins as a reflective ballad.

Suddenly, though, it becomes an upbeat, almost campy tune, with the switch to a more major key and the addition of Ezra’s overlaid harmonies.

Furman alternates beautifully between the slower tempo, drippy sadness and his more upbeat pleas to his “honey.”

Furman’s tunes are far from meaningless. He references both religion and politics in tracks like “American Soil” and “Cruel Cruel World.”

These two are more akin to older Furman tracks, utilizing the tambourine, a stronger guitar line and the harmonica.

Furman manages to touch on romance, as well. In “Are You Gonna Break My Heart,” he somehow keeps the beat up-tempo and the mood light, while still producing dramatic lines like, “Come on and get the scissors out/Show me what love is all about” and “If you ever got to use your heart/You wouldn’t even know where to start/So let me put your mind to rest/It’s a useless antique tucked away in the chest.”

It is Furman’s knack for language and lyrics that make his songs appealing and curious.

Closing out the album with a strength similar to the opener, “Queen of Hearts” leaves you wanting more of Furman’s musical thoughts.

The moody saxophone solos in “Queen of Hearts” are interspersed between Furman’s characteristic moderately-paced, drawn-out lyrics to create a surprising pairing.

The addition of the organ again lends an unexpected quality to the song, combining for a blend that is difficult to pinpoint.

The resulting sound seems to lie somewhere between drawly elevator music and folksy ballad.

Though Furman may be an acquired taste, his place on the indie music scene is set and his reach could extend into the mainstream for those willing to take time to listen to the offbeat instrumentation and ingenious lyrics on “The Year of No Returning.”

Stand-out tracks include “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Sinking Slow,” “Bad Man,” “Queen of Hearts” and “Are You Gonna Break My Heart?”

Side A of “The Year of No Returning” is available as a free digital download on Furman’s website: http://www.ezrafurman.com/site/index.html.

Ezra Furman will be performing at Shuba’s Tavern in Chicago on Apr. 28.

For more on Ezra Furman and his quirkiness, visit Tumblr, “Ezra Furman: A Guide for the Perplexed” at http://ezrafurman.tumblr.com/.

Contact Carrie Turek at