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Darkthrone - A Blaze in the Northern Sky Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit a tense, beautiful, lo-fi landmark from the second wave of black metal.
In the fall of 1971, a child is born in a remote village in Norway. He will one day rechristen himself Fenriz, after the Earth-swallowing wolf, Fenrir, who appears in Norse mythology and the Satanic Bible. But for now, he is Gylve Nagell, being raised by his grandmother, spending inordinate amounts of time alone. The pivotal moments of his childhood occur while listening to records, music introduced to him by an eccentric uncle named Stein. Pink Floyd catches his ear; a few songs by the Doors hold his attention; but it’s the English progressive rock band Uriah Heep that blows his mind. He’s entranced by the heavy organ sound, the cryptic lyrics, and the mysterious men with long hair who appear on the album’s cover. He cherishes the triple-fold LP like an heirloom from…

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Ezra Furman - Twelve Nudes Music Album Reviews

The songwriter’s most direct and brash album yet has no time for saxophones or keyboards. She gives specific, unpoetic examples and doesn’t mince words.

Ezra Furman is a highly thoughtful interviewee, often at the expense of convenient, neatly packaged answers. Hearing the songwriter dish on religion, rock’n’roll, and the United States of America with frequent pivots and pauses isn’t so different from hearing the four albums she’s recorded post-Harpoons—the first of at least four different backing bands that Furman has led—which jumped around doo-wop, blitzing sax-inflected pop, and scratchy-edged garage. Furman gives the same impression in both contexts: She has a lot going on up there, and she seems to feel a responsibility to sort through it all. An impatient conversationalist might prod her to just spit it out. On her most direct and brash album yet, Twelve Nudes, Furman does exactly that, and spits in a few faces along the way.

By the time of last year’s Transangelic Exodus, Furman’s cinematic opus about going on the run with an illegally harbored angel lover, she had moved on from her latest backing band, the Boy Friends, which she once defined as “a punk-soul-garage band.” Her new, nameless backing band has pared down to just one of those descriptors: punk. It’s volume over verbosity on Twelve Nudes. She’s upset; she’s enraged; she “should not be alone, the way things are going”; she has no time for saxophones or keyboards, let alone silly band names—not in 2019, when equality appears to be the last priority of the powerful. She gives specific, unpoetic examples and doesn’t mince words: “The kind of sex you want is the kind they’d like to make illegal”; “You register to vote, they make it impossible.”

Three years ago, Furman offered solace to fellow Perpetual Motion People on “Restless Year,” when she offered that “If you can’t calm down, you can listen to this.” She calls back to that lyric directly on Twelve Nudes’ opener, “Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone,” to disclaim that she can’t offer such respite here: “I know you can’t ’cause I can’t calm down,” she shrieks, blasting three-chord, major-key floodlights into accounts of habitual panic-sweating and thrashing around in bed at night. What she can offer, however, is a kick in the pants. “If you’re really at the end of your rope/No, you don’t take the night off/Too many demons to fight off,” she barks later.

One thing that remains the same with Furman on Twelve Nudes: She likes using classic templates to sing about new changes. That’s settled once “Sympathy for the Devil” is lifted not even 35 seconds into the album, but it’s especially moving on the one song where Furman unclenches her jaw and pulls back—all the way back, so that we can see what’s beneath her fight. Her governing ambition, she sings, is that she just wants to be someone’s girlfriend. “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” adopts a chord progression not far off from that of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and Furman reveals that she’s “been thinking about ditching Ezra and going by Esme” (she rhymes her new, Salinger-evoking name with “résumé,” as in the thing she’s been neglecting while “responsible friends” are updating theirs—a groaner, but an endearing one). She takes this breather, speaks her truth, exhales, and then it’s right back to our regularly scheduled rage. It’s a bold inclusion framed by a fine choice in pacing.

“I’m a shy person whose very presence has become a confrontation,” Furman said in a recent interview, 12 years after her debut with the Harpoons declared “I Wanna Be Ignored.” There’s been an evolution between that early song and the recent quote, as though Furman has accepted and now decided to embrace this confrontation. If confrontation is what they see, it’s what they’ll get, Twelve Nudes seems to say. If there is progress to be made for the marginalized, it won’t come without being loud. Furman musters her best rallying cry on “Evening Prayer aka Justice”: “If your frail human heart is still pumping/Then make this one night you remember,” she pleads. “Time to do justice for the poor.” Furman pushes her growl to its limits to get this out. She knows what time it is.

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