On a certain level I wonder if you even need to read this review. The critical mass is in favor of Priests. The D.C. group has been on an upward trajectory for more than 2 years now and the culmination is the release of the band's full-length debut album. Called Nothing Feels Natural, it's out this Friday on the band's own Sister Polygon Records. It is, to state it simply, one of the most electrifying things I've heard in quite some time. This is, really, one instance where it's safe to believe the hype 'cause, brothers and sisters, this is the real deal. And I'm not just saying that due to that fact that these cats and kittens are from D.C. either.
With a beat that (intentionally) echoes that of P.i.L.'s "Flowers of Romance", "Appropriate" unleashes the post-punk fury that is the heart of Nothing Feels Natural. As Katie Alice Greer rails about "new hope in the great unwashed", the song catches a spark, the players on fire behind her, and other listeners are presumably in positions like my own when I play this one: ready to pick up the flag of whatever movement this singer is leading and follow her and her brethren over the ramparts. Things modulate a bit on the infectious "JJ", all mid-period X swirled up with a dash of PJ Harvey. The best showcase on Nothing Feels Natural for the members of Priests -- Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals), G.L. Jaguar (guitar), and Taylor Mulitz (bass) -- "JJ" was the first cut on this album that absolutely floored me with its blend of snarly punk and shouty angst. Which is not to unfairly pigeonhole this as just harDCore 2.0 'cause it's catchy as all hell, folks!
Katie Alice Greer sings that she's "the stubbornest girl in the world" on the churning "Nicki", all early Siouxsie attitude mixed with "Atrocity Exhibition" by Joy Division. Elsewhere, on the pulsing "No Big Bang", the lyrics, written here by drummer Daniele Daniele, take on an urgency that's married to the Le Tigre-style wash of beat-and-riff. That nod to the era of Ian Curtis and the peers of his post-punk generation shows up again on the sublime and affecting title cut where Katie's near-coo rides over top of a hook that is pure Cure. The easiest cut on this record to love, "Nothing Feels Natural" is a clear highlight here of this debut full-length release. When Katie purrs "Ooh baby, my American dream" in the brilliant "Pink White House", she's using the same sort of deft, consumer culture-skewering lyricism that Poly Styrene brought to those very best X-Ray Spex songs. As the guitars buzz around her, and those drums pound, pound, and pound, Greer unleashes a litany of rage at the mundane and plastic, and yet the song is anything but strident. Sharp and aware, Priests here are operating at the sort of peak that other bands take decades to hit. Confident and economically performed, the cut is just fantastic, that rare thing that can make you dance while you're setting the cop car on fire to kick off the revolution.
Closer "Suck" drops in a rhythmic underpinning that's faintly reminiscent of something from Seventies radio even as the sax recalls Lora Logic from X-Ray Spex. The blend here of soothing and jarring is hard to pull off, sort of like when Mark E. Smith from The Fall tries to sing over a pretty melody, you know? That Priests so thoroughly own this style of music says so much about why Nothing Feels Natural succeeds so well, and on so many levels. On paper, Nothing Feels Natural might sound like a mess of bad ideas, a jumble of influences callously rubbed up against each other. Instead, when you spin this one, you're hit with a rush of electricity. Greer, Daniele, Jaguar, and Mulitz sound like a D.C. band, certainly -- they have that kind of organic DIY vibe that so many post-Revolution Summer Dischord acts had -- and the way they have sort of cultivated their own style is a very harDCore kinda thing. Sure, there are bits here that you will find familiar, but the overall effect is so fresh and fun (in the right kind of way), that I'm a bit stunned at how much this did actually warrant the hype leading up to its release.
Look, Nothing Feels Natural is flat-out freakin' fantastic. This year belongs to Priests and they deserve all the attention they are surely going to get when this one breaks big. More importantly, I expect loads of kids to hear this and get some ideas on starting bands. This is proof that you can make smart music, that has edge, and some political points to make, without being boring about it. As effortlessly perfect as those late-period Fugazi albums remain, and as light-years ahead of its peers as Germfree Adolescents was in 1978, Nothing Feels Natural is gonna be hard to better in 2017 in terms of musical vision and lyrical precision.
And, hey, you can dance to it too, so...
[Photo: Audrey Melton]