Priests are an old-school punk band, anti-capitalist and outspoken. Over the past near-decade, the DC trio have been embedded in DIY music culture, their self-owned label Sister Polygon Records having released fellow DC punk Sneaks and Maryland singer-songwriter Snail Mail. Yet there’s an impressive shimmer and shine throughout second album ‘The Seduction Of Kansas’, an indication that their refusal to compromise belies their steely ambition.
The title comes from What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a 2004 sociological study that portrays the state as a canary in the coalmine of America; Kansas was socialist in the 1800s, but moved to the right at the end of the last century. While 2017 debut ‘Nothing Feels Natural’ took pitiless aim at the American political system and consumerism, this record is more accepting of political difference. It’s another look at contemporary America, but the battle lines are less severe.
It’s also the first Priests release without founding bassist Taylor Mulitz, who quit to work on Flasher, his punk side-project, though producer John Congleton compensated for his absence. Feted for his successes with the likes of St Vincent, he has cleaned up and expanded the band’s sound: a reward for stepping outside the comfort of their tight-knit unit.
On the propulsive ‘Carol’, singer Katie Alice Greer croons, “I’m a mirror / Disco ball”, over a spindly post-punk guitar riff. ‘Texas Instruments’ combines Sonic Youth-like dirge with alt-pop xylophone, while standout ‘I’m Clean’ segues from glistening, echoing new wave verse into Greer’s full-throated howl when she denounces political apathy: “No agency or complexity”.
‘Good Time Charlie’ takes on former Texan congressman Charlie Wilson and, though it’s obvious that the band takes a dim view of him, the takedown is melancholy, not savage. “We are trying to flesh out what is often a very black-and-white picture, and explore the trajectory of how a person becomes this thing that we all view as so awful,” Greer has explained.
American politics has become so divisive that Priests, a staunchly old-school and uncompromising band, have been moved to seek some common ground with the other side – although they remain in opposition. Even without that caveat, ‘The Seduction Of Kansas’ is a fun, dancey funk-punk record that benefits from Congleton’s lightness of touch, proof that you can step outside your comfort zone and maintain your sense of self.