DC punk band Priests' Nothing Feels Natural dials the in-your-face confrontation down a few notches.
Our current political landscape is one where ‘alternative facts’ is not a phrase taken from a dystopian novel but a thing in real life, so it’s a strange and disorienting time, to say the least. Priests, a DC punk band that could be described as directly confrontational in the past, are not so confrontational anymore. The absurdity of it all has scrambled their brains, which is quite understandable. Whereas their last release was called Bodies and Control and Money and Power and past songs included statements such as “this country was not made for you, and it was built on lies on murder”, their new release is called Nothing Feels Natural and dials the in-your-face confrontation down a few notches.
Don’t get me wrong; Priests are still aggressive. They are just not as direct. I had only been listening to Priest’s Nothing Feels Natural for about one minute before I was set back, attacked. An unforgiving “Lust for Life”-esque drum pounds while lead singer Katie Alice Greer blurts what feels like a thousand words. Then the rest of the band crashes in, and she says, “Say it! I've tasted maggots, I ate bugs, I've tasted maggots, I ate bugs.” It’s clear from here on: Priests are still mad, but Priests are figuring out a new, more subversive way to express it.
Another area of dramatic growth for Priests from their last release to Nothing Feels Natural is the vocal theatrics of lead singer, Greer. Past releases saw her utilizing a common yelling/singing combination. Now, she mostly uses a staggering, incessantly-changing warble reminiscent of X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene or John Lydon’s work with Public Image Ltd. It’s an audacious and divisive style and may set some listeners off. Fortunately, Greer knows when to settle down and allow a smoother style to show, as she does on the almost dreamy title track.
Musically, Priests have matured. Gone is the simple aggro-punk style. In its place, we find much more nuanced approaches. The prevailing style consists of unabating drums surrounded by spindly, spiky guitars and simple bass lines. The group adds a squawking sax in there occasionally as well. This style is simple fun, and it’s bare enough to allow Greer’s boisterous vocals to shine as they should. The album sees other approaches as well. “No Big Bang” sounds like Sonic Youth leading Kim Gordon through some of her beat poetry, “Suck” sounds like a tinny version of Remain in Light era Talking Heads, and “Nothing Feels Natural” echoes DIIV.
The lyrics are complex, but close inspection illuminates the poetry within. “JJ” is a glorious stream-of-thought exploration of a crush where Greer sings, “I wrote you a bunch of songs but you never knew, and you never deserved them. Whoever deserves anything anyway; what a stupid concept.” “Puff” is so absurd that its meaning gets lost, but it is full of strange and wonderful lines like this: “My best friend says, ‘I want to start a band called Burger King’ and I say "Do it! Make your dreams a reality." Throughout the rest of album, the lyrics continue to deliver thoughtful observations mingled with absurd poetry.
Overall, Priests are becoming a singular group. Greer says on the title track, “Perhaps I will change into something, swing the other way wildly.” Well, if the group has been looking to change, I think they found a good place to settle, no matter how strange and scrambled it seems at first.