In late 2017, a video surfaced of a man discussing cat food with his wife only to have his Facebook app regurgitate that conversation in the form of ads for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. His phone listened to their words. Through some form of sinister programming, it decided that this couple fit the criteria of pet owners and therefore were susceptible to buying this particular product. They didn’t even own a cat.
This is our modern day America. There’s an overwhelming sense of paranoia going around, and not merely because of creepy advertisements. Russian tampering, mass shootings, the mental stability of the President –– it all feels as if we don’t have control over our own futures. Our ability to live as autonomously and freely as one would expect in our democracy is slipping away. The popular literature to point to in times like these is George Orwell’s “1984,” but let me instead take a less clichéd route and direct you to Ezra Furman’s “Transangelic Exodus.” This album triumphs in its ability to thin the line between an Orwellian future and the increasingly dark present.
“Exodus,” which Furman released Feb. 9, is his latest indie-rock album and the first to function as a song-by-song narrative. The project flips his experiences as a gender-fluid person into a tale of a fugitive on the run, with each song acting as a chapter in his tale of escaping the hands of an all-controlling government. While his own identity as a non-conforming person is at stake, there’s also the livelihood of his lover, a man who has undergone a life-changing operation and emerged as an angel. Together they stash their savings in a red Camaro and flee to Los Angeles (the city of angels, of course) trying not to break their new set of wings along the way. It’s not a journey of self-discovery — it’s one of self-preservation.
While Orwell chose to focus on the bleak future of an omnipresent surveillance state, Furman tells a story that leads to this type of dystopia. This prequel begins with intolerance. The first song, “Suck the Blood from My Wound,” explains that this doesn’t mean the historical notion of extreme prejudices that resulted in segregation and the Nazi party; rather, Furman is referring to the everyday intolerances people experience just by being different. As someone who has previously sung about the intersectional obstacles of being queer and Jewish in America, Furman knows what it’s like to not always fit in — he’s never been able to decipher what God might think of his sexuality.
It doesn’t take much to decipher what America thinks of Furman or his angelic lover on “Exodus,” though. To Furman, America would rather have him conform to an archetypal identity than be able to live openly and fluidly. He’s constantly looking over his shoulder as he buys clothes for women (“Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill”), always questioning what any individual might think of him (“Compulsive Liar”), and even accepts that death would be a viable alternative to the judgement of his nation (“Driving Down to L.A.”). Maybe one of the first lines from “Love You So Bad” offers the best analogy for his mental constraints: “Like the kid in the back of the classroom / Who can’t do the math ’cause he can’t see the blackboard.” Furman has been placed at an institutional disadvantage on the whim of those who see him as different. His life is now one of constant paranoia as a response.
“Exodus” excels at drawing out that Trump-era bug in the back of your head, the one that itches when you think someone’s watching you and scratches when you feel like you’re losing control over your life. It’s impossible not to sympathize with Furman as he attempts to survive its maturation. And as Furman describes on the song “From a Beach House,” the best option he can surmise for dealing with this bug is to take himself off the grid and hide. This is in stark contrast to the potential of the wonderful world he envisions, where the U.S. is filled with angels of all races, genders and ages. But unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, and if you love any angels — anyone at a disadvantage — you better keep them close.
So much for good ‘ol American freedom.
Benj Salkind is a senior philosophy major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.