by Jamie Nagode
Priests, an activist punk rock band dwelling in Washington D.C., drop their fourth album, Nothing Feels Natural, on January 27, 2017, one week after inauguration day. After a few years writing, recording, and re-recording, they have arrived at a piece that is sociologically stimulating and combats societal pressures. It is a work of honesty, a critique on our culture with no holds barred. It breathes rebellion and, no doubt, breeds unrest and political opposition. The album is written and recorded in a voice with clear direction, yet slyly redirects the listener through an elaborate web of subliminal notions. This can make it seem as if the punch line is concealed in some shabby stream of conscious, but that is certainly not the case here if you’re really listening. This album is one of the most relevant, and sets a beautiful precedent for contemporary artists to stand for something when society fails.
The album starts with a ferocious drum pulse, enter Katie Greer, the group’s vocalist and lyricist. “You want some new brutalism?” she asks and takes you down with the honest truth of the American Dream. Appropriate, the song’s title, means to take something for your own use without permission. Manifest destiny is on the stage. This album is roasting it. Appropriate preheats the oven. Tritone guitar intervals drive the verse with a half-step decent into the chorus; it’s a grimy tune. Climactic drums spiral through a controlled yet impulsive segue into a slower second half of the song when you hear “I work too hard to have friends like you anymore”. Lethargy turns into anger and gradually accelerates with a realization of self-worth, when those who surround you slow you down and you don’t have to explain yourself.
JJ is a surfey upbeat song about dating the wrong person, acknowledging the fault in having bad taste in that respect, but coming out on top because that person kinda sucks. It’s a postmodern method of earning sympathy, skillfully used here; list your fatal flaws, show some heart, tell your story. It may come off blameful, but its cathartic as hell to write a song like this, and it totally grooves. Nicki is a spookier song that follows JJ, about the exhaustion that naturally hails from befriending snakey people that sell you out. Vocals are layered over riffs from the guitar and lyrics are clever and well thought out; “I’m gonna buy you before you buy me” is a perfect warning.
Lelia 20 is driven by a striking bass line with an upbeat major-chord progression. Its difficult to locate a downbeat until the second half of the song, which gives some sensory deprivation to the first half leaving you in a dreamlike state, which is reflected in the lyrics. It coincides so nicely. Everything aligns in the second half of the song with hypnotizing harmonies that conquer the nightmare described in the vocals. No Big Bang follows with a frenetic drum line and an equally rapid bass with guitar trailing over the top. The vocals are all spoken word, telling a story about misconceptions and the two sides to manic productivity. A reverberant instrumental interlude follows to prepare for the second half.
Nothing Feels Natural, the song for which the album was named, is a beachy upbeat song run with guitar slides and feverish drums. Vocals float through as if on a breeze; its catchy and lulling all at once. The piece seems to acknowledge a dismal suspicion that maybe this life isn’t really good for anyone, its not much more than waiting to greet death without salvation. Its melancholy, for sure, but somehow comforting. The single is followed by one of the most provocative songs on the album, Pink White House, a critique on the polarized government, the prescribed American Dream, and complete submissive conformity. The lyrics are an outright work of art; its songs like these that demonstrate the beauty of location in that they are making so much noise living in our nation’s capitol. Puff regurgitates the blood of the previous song with slightly more ferocity and, more or less, nails our culture to the cross.
The final song on the album, Suck, is a little livelier, bass driven with cute guitar interjections and a completely different set of drums that they – no doubt – borrowed from LCD Soundsystem. There’s a lot of freedom in this song, a lot of improvisation contrasted by the lyrics that basically describe being trapped in a vocal prison, and the guards are cops that are hard of hearing. This song acknowledges the pressures felt between cops and punks – you know the story. The song ends with vocals like sirens trailing off “Obsessed with the police”. It’s an essential listen – super catchy with a lot of great points, matching the rest of the LP. Overall, Nothing Feels Natural was a stunning album in more ways than one, and worth the wait. I feel smarter after listening to it.