Seconds into The Year of No Returning, it’s clear that Ezra Furman has left behind his last album with backing band The Harpoons. While there are still a few rollicking rock ‘n roll numbers like those on Mysterious Power, they’re given idiosyncratic twists, and they sit in the midst of completely new territory for the songwriter. He still has the same smirk, the same witty lyrics, the same eye on the dark edges of the world, but the scope of the instrumentals has expanded.
Album opener “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” is a dead ringer for something off of Man Man’s most recent disc, the self-fear and rebellion of the lyrics and clarinets counterpointing a wonderfully scenic, low guitar. The piano-driven “Sinking Slow” hits notes of folksy richness that no Furman track yet can match, all haunting overtones, stuttered strings, and lush vocal harmonies. “Bad Man” is a pure ballad, musically, sitting Furman down at a piano, as he tries his hardest to get his yowl to turn into a rasp, adoration and heartache simultaneously leaking out of every joint.
Furman’s strongest quality, though, remains his ability to turn a clever phrase. The story of a fight is fractured on “That’s When It Hit Me”, as is the darkly comic take on religion on “American Soil” (“I’m a Jew through and through, and I’m about to write you a bible”). On the crushing “The Queen of Hearts”, he spits out one of the best lines in recent music memory: “This is my heart, it’s a motor/it will search the world over/I’m a search engine, see what I mean.”
The Year of No Returning is another batch of the finest written tunes you could ask for, though it just doesn’t have the same unified world as the masterful Mysterious Power. But to ask for a repeat of that performance–to complain about songs this good–would be a travesty. Furman has again proven his status as one of the elite songwriters in the indie world.
Essential Tracks: “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, “Are You Gonna Break My Heart?”, and “The Queen of Hearts”