Washington, D.C. is a town of purists. And remembering the chirps and howls of disapproval when Jawbox and Shudder To Think left Dischord so many years ago for the major labels, I can only hope that things have changed here, especially for those old-timers -- ahem -- who had appointed this city's Priests as the second coming of Fire Party or something. That's not to say that Priests have sold out -- whatever that would mean in 2019 is anyone's guess -- but that the stylistic changes on the band's new album, The Seduction of Kansas, out on Friday via their own Sister Polygon Records, are big ones. And while the more rigidly-minded out there might regret that this LP is not Nothing Feels Natural 2, some of us are delighted that this trio has decided to explore somewhat new territory.
Katie Alice Greer, Daniele Daniele, and G.L. Jaguar, along with touring bassist Alexandra Tyson and Janel Leppin, see Priests as, if not a harDCore band per se, at least one that's just as subversive and against the grain as any of the luminaries from this city's storied musical past. If anything, the band's use of Americana and its hoary tropes here on The Seduction of Kansas suggests the sort of broad musical vision that this town rarely gets to witness. And while Ex Hex can successfully "rock out" on a lot of Eighties-style riffs nearly with a straight face, Priests are more interested in ripping that stuff up and piecing it together again to suit their own ends, cue the lead single and title cut here. A sinewy number that is even dance-able, Greer peers at Middle America to stare down that beast and figure out what makes it tick. Elsewhere, "Jesus' Son" is rage barely coiled, hints of old Sleater-Kinney sides peeking through here, while "I'm Clean" is a slow-burn, the sort of thing Frank Tovey would have trotted out to the suits at Mute some decades ago. "Good Time Charlie" roars, Daniele's drum-work here just perfect, while "Not Perceived" recalls for me nothing so much as "If Only Tonight We Could Sleep" from The Cure's big 1987 opus, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Kudos to producer John Congleton for allowing some variety in tone here, with the sleek surfaces on lots of the tracks on The Seduction of Kansas giving way to bursts of raw power ("Control Freak") when necessary.
There's lots to absorb here ("Youtube Sartre") in terms of lyrical content as well, but if you just want to get your groove on, I think Priests might not have too much of a problem with that. And while it would be easy to suggest that "68 Screen" sounds a tiny bit like an early Madonna dance-floor filler, I think Greer would agree that there's no shame in that. I think it's safe to say that Madonna did more to change minds than so-called extreme artists like Lydia Lunch, you know? And if you dress up something smart and clever in a package that's shiny, like on the lovely "Carol", with its mentions of Target and other brands, that's nearly more of a transgressive act than making an alternative record that only the hip are likely to buy. Priests get that and that's what makes them one of the very best bands in America in 2019, and, as The Seduction of Kansas illustrates, that rarest of bands which can adapt and progress in terms of sonic attack.
The Seduction of Kansas is out on Friday via Sister Polygon Records.
[Photo: Drew Hagelin]