On 'The Seduction of Kansas', Priests Have Progressed into a Genre-Defying, Myth-Crafting Force
The Seduction of Kansas finds Priests progressing beyond their abrasive punk roots into a genre-defying force, fluent in the slick soundscapes of St. Vincent and the Talking Heads as well as the grain and grit of Portishead and Nine Inch Nails.
The Seduction of Kansas
5 April 2019
"The trick never ages; the illusion never wears off," writes Thomas Frank in his prescient 2005 book What's the Matter With Kansas? "Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation," and so on. It's an indictment of the bait-and-switch politics with which the Republican party seduced Frank's home state of Kansas, a bellwether of American ideology. Nearly 15 years later, Frank's analysis still hurts as we've continued to see this political trick -- promising moralism, but delivering capitalism -- play out to a larger extent. However, one group from Washington D.C. is ready to counterattack the pandering and, instead, promote authenticity (hint: it's not the politicians).
Rock and roll group Priests have never shied from inserting themselves in political discourse. "Barack Obama killed something in me, and I'm gonna get him for it," howls vocalist Katie Alice Greer on 2014 track "And Breeding". In 2019, however, Greer, Daniele Daniele (drums), and G.L. Jaguar (guitar) are more interested in wooing blue-collar America than explicitly attacking politicians. To that end, The Seduction of Kansas finds Priests progressing beyond their abrasive punk roots into a genre-defying force, fluent in the slick soundscapes of St. Vincent and the Talking Heads as well as the grain and grit of Portishead and Nine Inch Nails.
Echoes of 2017's Nothing Feels Natural can still be heard in Jaguar's manic guitar intro to "Jesus' Son", bringing to mind a similar performance on "Puff". The fiery "Control Freak" keeps the punk spirit alive as Greer snarls about power tripping over a fast and loose beat stabbed with sharp, slashing guitars. "Not Perceived", on the other hand, showcases Priests' cooler, spacier stylings, as ascending bass lines and descending guitar lines weave back and forth over thundering snare blasts and icy synths.
Elsewhere, Priests compliment their fusion of musical influences with an impressive command of literature and American mythcraft. On the title track, Pizza Hut, football, The Wizard of Oz, and politicians encapsulate America's majesty, as the crowds pledge their deepest devotion, screaming, "I'm the one who loves you." Taking sonic cues from St. Vincent's Masseduction, the track turns a mirror to our American values and seemingly asks us, "Are these institutions really the symbols we want to define us?"
"Good Time Charlie" mythicizes Congressman Charlie Wilson (famously portrayed by Tom Hanks) and his involvement in the Soviet-Afghan conflict during the Cold War. The track is another lyrical highlight for Greer, showcasing her eloquently minimalistic storytelling while effortlessly rhyming "mezzanine" with "Mujahideen". But more importantly, it reminds us that our country has a past of helping marginalized groups, but only with ulterior motives, and only when it's convenient for us. "Don't believe yourself to be a virtuous thief / Or virtuous about anything," Greer sneers on "Youtube Sartre", asserting that we never really do anything for anyone's good except our own.
For Priests, this sin is committed most egregiously in the worlds of advertising and television, where corporations and studios claim to provide services for the consumer, yet really just want to control the public consciousness. "68 Screen", one of Daniele's lyrical contributions to the album, begins, "Ideas, you've projected on me / Images, you use to cover me / The bright light that obscures my being / I would tear myself in half / To destroy that screen that's got you rapt."
The issue of advertisers and social media creating the American Consumer™ has been increasingly resisted by artists in recent years. The goal Priests hopes for is a free-thinking and autonomous population unswayed by the cacophony of opinions society has to offer. "I dream this dream in which my body is my own," Daniele proclaims on the album's late "Interlude". This is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream-- a dream which has been abused and violated in recent history by those with the loudest voices, whether it be political parties or cosmetics corporations. As the dissenting voices continue to rise, however, that dream is being reclaimed, and the seduction of Kansas is beginning to wear off.