Movement has always been key to Ezra Furman, both as an artist and a person. Hell, he’s a busy touring musician and his previous album was called Perpetual Motion People, so, in retrospect, it feels like it was only a matter of time before Furman and his band, rechristened as The Visions for this record, put out a road trip concept album. That it would be about “transangels” having to go on the run to evade shadowy government agents was, perhaps, less predictable in the specifics. But it does, when you think of Furman’s self-identification as a queer, gender fluid person of Jewish faith, make “well, duh” levels of sense as a vehicle for exploring the experience of being “other” in a society that can distrust, fear and hate “otherness.”

The narrative thread to Transangelic Exodus is compelling, but your enjoyment or understanding of the record is not contingent upon following it. You don’t need to pore over liner notes and read along to the lyrics sheet to get the sense of what Furman is driving at. Not even Furman himself, perpetual motion person that he is, can commit himself entirely to it, and the album jumps around from a series of songs that serve as scenes for the titular, paranoid road trip movie, to self-contained, quasi-autobiographical vignettes. This is not, however, to the album’s detriment. Furman’s skills as a lyricist mean that he is equally adept at vividly portraying the paradoxically fantastical yet banal details of the album’s plot as he is at empathically drawing out the heartstopping humanity of lived-in, personal experience.

Opening with the Springsteen-via-Gaiman surge of ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound,’ Furman sets the scene with what may as well be the aural equivalent of a storyboard:

I woke up bleeding in the crock of a tree TV blaring on the wall above the coffee machine

...

I grip the steering wheel and picture my angel Climbing out the hospital window Leaving tubes in a tangle

...

Wrap half the money in your hospital garment We'll stash the rest inside the red Camaro's secret compartment

Your fallen feathers fill up two shopping bags

That careful attention to details grounds the story and makes it believable. You know, insomuch as a tale of transangels can be believable. Of course, all this very fine creative writing would be for naught if ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound’ wasn’t also a brilliant pop song that manages to embody the urgency of the flight of our hero and his angel with its blown-out sonics and ceaseless forward momentum. The DNA of Furman’s established sound - a novel, updated take on golden oldie era rock’n’roll and 70s garage rock - is taken apart and reconstructed with everything turned up to 11, every element competing to push the needle into the red. The beat of ‘Suck My Blood’ is purpose-built for a live audience clap-along, and yet dramatic piano chords signal that grave danger is snapping at our fugitive’s heels. Furman’s vocal performance, here and elsewhere on the album, is scenery-chewing to the extent that, by the time he’s screaming “a plague on both your houses!” at the song’s close, you find yourself fearing for the wellbeing of the actual set designer.

While we’re on the subject of his voice, be warned: Furman embodies that phrase used by Bowie to describe Dylan’s voice and adds coarse gravel and shattered glass to the sandpaper and glue. But if you can acquire a taste for them, Furman’s vocals are downright infectious in their to-hell-with-it, full-throated commitment. They totally sell the adrenaline shots to the heart that are ‘No Place’ and ‘Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill.’ And in softer moments, as on the verses of ‘Driving Down to LA’ where he’s almost a dead ringer for Neil Young, or the absolutely gorgeous ‘God Lifts Up The Lowly’ and ‘Psalm 151,’ Furman invests his performance with delicate rawness and vulnerability.

Transangelic Exodus was recorded piecemeal with Furman demoing with different band members and combining the disparate parts, a methodology which contributes to the album’s frenetic, fragmented aesthetic. While this works for the most part, a couple of tracks suffer as a result of a certain level of ill-fitting affectedness. ‘From A Beach House’ serves its purpose in the narrative, but feels like a bit of an incoherent musical hodgepodge, with it’s chilly glockenspiel, Yeezus-aping booming bass, tumbling toms, and incongruous doo-wop-via-psych-pop chorus. And then there’s ‘Come Here Get Away From Me,’ a Tom Waits-ian hobo-blues track about the conflicting desires for intimacy and isolation, which appears to do its utmost to be as aurally alienating as possible, with Furman doing his best Isaac Brock off his meds impression, dated sounding beats on the chorus, and a dulcimer that should have been left in the dumpster it was found in. The song is, I concede, partially redeemed by its final verse wherein Furman describes having two doctors, one to talk to about about the panic, and one for the apathy, before punningly name-checking the song’s titular paradox (pair of docs, get it?).

Songs like ‘Driving Down to L.A.’ and ‘Peel My Orange Every Morning,’ on the other hand, combine quiet, controlled verses with explosive choruses that don’t just utilise the quiet-loud dynamic, but smash completely different styles together with great success. The latter features intense cello in lieu of the distorted guitar rush one would expect, to disorientating and thrilling effect. During recording, Furman discovered that his bassist played cello and the instrument serves as a throughline to the album, featuring prominently on some of its key songs. On ‘God Lifts Up The Lowly’ the thrum of the instrument imbues the track with stately melancholy in keeping with its earnest trust in God’s grace, whilst its rhythmic insistence on ‘Love You So Bad’ gives that song an anthemic quality at ironic odds with the subject matter: this isn’t a song about loving someone so much, but rather about loving them inadequately despite one’s best efforts. If I were a grammar Nazi, I’d pick Furman up on his poor adverb use.

Speaking of Nazis (now that’s what we in the writing trade call a smooth segue), the current state of America looms large on Transangelic Exodus. In the video for ‘Driving Down To L.A.’ Furman and his angel companion are literally chased by neo-Nazis until the angel starts shooting them with a revolver (because why not?). Album highpoint and early song of the year contender, ‘No Place,’ sees Furman and his Visions floor the gas pedal to the clarion call of a blaring bugle as drums clatter like they’re being played whilst the kit and drummer fall, endlessly, down an ascending escalator. It’s a song about not just feeling unwelcome in the place you call home due to your perceived “otherness,” but genuinely fearing for your safety, when faced with the not totally implausible possibility of a fascist takeover:

I found out on a Monday The city I love doesn't love me In fact fuck that It would rather see me dead

Furman’s narrator, who is presumably the transangelic boyfriend, dejectedly surmises that the world is no place for a creature like him, before defiantly turning it around to conclude that, if it can’t accept him and others like him, then really it is no place at all. Exile becomes a place in and of itself, somewhere to be proud, from which to “babble on.” There’s little hope that things will change (“Something tells me I may be singing this song a long, long while”), but the Furman proxy will continue to meet oppression with a big, broad, defiant smile. On ‘God Lifts Up The Lowly,’ Furman prays for plagues to befall the nation, which he likens to the Egypt of Exodus (which Furman quotes a verse from in the liner notes regarding the treatment of foreigners and the need for empathy). ‘Psalm 151’, a beautiful Beatles-meets-70s-theatrical-rock ballad, closes out the album’s plot, bemoaning that “the government went bad, we got a raw deal.” It’s a line that would be perfectly appropriate in a straightforward protest song about Trump’s “great again” America.

Transangelic Exodus’ status as an allegorical protest record that speaks for those ostracised by society - be they immigrants, refugees, the closeted, the out, the homelessness, vulnerable or searching - cements it as one of the most important albums to have been released thus far this year. But it is in its expression of boundless empathy that the album’s true value lies. Although he refuses to confirm the veracity of the apparently autobiographical songs on the album, there is such humanity and compassion to be found in songs like ‘Compulsive Liar’, which sees Furman attribute his “fatal flaw” of the song’s title to having to suppress burgeoning feelings of homosexual desire when he was young, and imploring any closeted listeners not to let themselves remain closeted for too long lest they become distorted and ensnared in the contortions of their lies. ‘Maraschino Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’ is a stunningly drawn scene, wherein a young Furman gets paranoid whilst attempting to buy the titular garment. Heartstopping admissions of feelings of inferiority (“I am hideous and no-one can ever know”) serve to provide insight into an experience which many of us (full disclosure: I’m a middle class, white, heterosexual, cis male) would never have to go through. The injustice being that no-one should have to go through it. And yet America now has a President who is willing to perpetuate an atmosphere of intolerance that will only lead to an increase in negative experiences of that ilk for so many people.

The album ends on a bit of a bonus cut. ‘I Lost My Innocence’ feels like it could have appeared on Perpetual Motion People; its slightly goofy chorus melody feels of a piece with the finger-clicking pop of ‘Lousy Connection’ off that album. But its charm is undeniable, and its relative levity feels hard-earned after some of the darkness encountered along the way during the album’s road-trip narrative. Earlier on there was no place for a creature like Furman. On ‘I Lost My Innocence,’ he reclaims that epithet:

I'm a little creature / In the lazy evening / I'm a little creature / And they can't catch me / Lying semi-naked on his rooftop dreaming / Dreaming of the creature / That I used to be

It’s a life-affirming moment, a rare instance of feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, at peace with one’s past, and defiant about one’s future. Sadly, there’s a cruel dichotomy at the heart of defiant statements like “I'm a queer for life, [an] outlaw, outsider” or “to them we’ll always be freaks” off the album opener. They’re simultaneously empowering but also reaffirming of a notion of “dangerous otherness” that is merely a pathetically outdated social construct. We can only hope that compassionate works of art like Transangelic Exodus can somehow help to change perceptions and reverse the tide of bigotry and small-mindedness that’s sweeping the US and other so-called democracies around the world. I hate to be pessimistic, but something tells me Furman’s going to be travelling around, singing this song a long, long while.