After moving from Minty Fresh to Red Parlor, 2011’s Mysterious Power showed a less rollicking side of Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, and for his first solo outing, The Year of No Returning, the frontman of the indie rock group relies on intimate, guitar-based songs. Comparisons to Dylan have followed the songwriter from the beginning, and here, with simple, folky arrangements (and guest musicians adding backing tracks by way of percussion, piano, upright bass, or strings), Furman’s poignant lyrics are more prominent than ever. The Harpoons added a fun-spirited, chaotic element to his tunes, but even in this straightforward style, without the purposefully amateurish aesthetic, Furman’s thoughtful songwriting style remains refreshingly distinctive. Besides the fact that the music is softer and more focused on this outing, the most notable change is in Furman’s demeanor, which has moved from childlike spunk to desperation. Songs like “Cruel Cruel World,” “Are You Gonna Break My Heart?,” “Doomed Love Affair,” and “Down” (which starts on the note, “What the fuck do I do all day laying in bed?”) are as downtrodden as they sound. When the subject matter moves from introspection outward, to focus on his surroundings, the results are even more fear-filled, as Furman dissects American society’s big business attitudes and inherent lack of spirituality, with lines like “So if you ever find that church that fits in your purse, put it into your cold metal shopping cart/and keep on wandering the aisles on the sick fluorescent tiles, we’ll be miles and miles apart/I’ve got my own search and I’m still just at the start.” Often embarking with a lyrical wisdom beyond his years, it’s no surprise that he would hit his mid-life crisis early. With such a resounding sadness, it’s doubtful that this will be the album to pull in new listeners, but it’s certainly his most mature record, and packs a hell of an emotional punch.
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