Review: The Fiercely Ambitious Foundation of Priests’ ‘Nothing Feels Natural’

Priests © Audrey Melton

In a time where there seems to be a constant feeling of uneasiness, restlessness, and anger about the current state of political affairs, there’s art being molded out of these very feelings to combat the turmoil. Washington D.C. punks Priests let out every drop of their personal and political distress on their raucous debut full-length album Nothing Feels Natural (1/27/17 on Sister Polygon Records).

Priests have never shied away from being outspoken and sharing their political opinions, whether it’s through their music or actions. On the night of Trump’s inauguration, the band organized a counter-inauguration protest show called “NO THANKS: A Night of Anti-Fascist Sound Resistance in the Capitol of the USA” at D.C. club The Black Cat. All of the proceeds of the benefit went to Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center and ONE DC. The four-piece group have always refused to just sit behind their music, something impossible for them to do when every one of their songs is right in-your-face. Nothing Feels Natural is a personal outcry to all things political, commercial, and capital. It’s unabashedly thunderous and urgent as it looks to a light fire in people who have been all-too-complacent for them.

Listen: Nothing Feels Natural – Priests

Its opening track “Appropriate” comes crashing through, a guiding dark light towards the journey the album takes. 

You want some new brutalism?
You want something you can write home about
You want something to move away for
A reason to colonize

The tension is immediate. Taylor Mulitz’ deep baselines, GL Jaguar’s power chords, and Daniele Daniele’s drums clash under singer Katie Alice Greer’s commanding voice. It all releases in the middle of the track, giving little room to breathe before instruments come crashing back, this time with a chaotic saxophone screeching to the surface. The follow-up track, “Jj” takes a turn with 60s-surf-rock inspired guitar licks and buoyant drum beats and piano keys. Again, each instrument strikes together in an enigmatically beautiful way that brings electricity to every note.

Watch: “Jj” – Priests

The track “No Big Bang” is the only song on the album where Daniele takes the lead, using spoken word to detail her feeling of being so internally terrified about the scarily, daunting future that she almost wishes she’d never been born. This transitions into “Interlude,” a somber, orchestral piece that solidifies not only her end, but the possible end of the world.

In Nothing Feels Natural, Priests use brutally honest imagery to expose people who use political perils solely to make art for capitalism. They’ve made a point as to not be diluted by dollar signs, and releasing Nothing Feels Natural didn’t come financially easy for the band. They wanted to position themselves as far away from corporations who would control their art as possible by releasing the record through their own record label Sister Polygon. When Priests decided to re-record the album, they were also working full time customer service jobs, Greer became frustrated and depressed, and the pressures of finishing the album weighed heavy on everyone’s shoulders. It seemed like the record was never going to be completed. But, through this emotional state came their title and standout track “Nothing Feels Natural.” Here, Greer trades in her shouting for low toned, soft singing over menacingly gleaming guitar chords.

Perhaps I will change into something
Swing wildly the other way
If I go without for days
will I finally hallucinate a real thing
No it’s not for anyone
and I can’t wait until it’s done

Creating something good enough for yourself can be a constant uphill battle when you’re your own harshest critic. It’s even tougher when it’s your talent or passion on the line, your vulnerability peeks out of the shadows and your production is held to the highest standard. That pressure alone can put someone into a quicksand of disappointment but by the end of “Nothing Feels Natural,” Greer’s repetitive plea of “I can’t wait” brings the potential to crawl out of it. Priests amp up the last bits of the album with “Pink White House,” illustrating how the concept of the American Dream acts as a hallucinogen for what opportunity and hard work can amount to.

Come on palm trees, come on soft seas,
come on vacation, come on SUV
Oooh baby my American dream,
oooh baby my American dream

The sense of vertigo is brought on by Jaguar’s spiraling guitar riffs and Greer’s list of materialistic artifacts. Priests don’t hide the fact that they think people are often clouded by the sense that what they have is what they’re worth. The closing tracks of Nothing Feels Natural contain harsh filled lyrics, “Puff” more fervent in demeanor and instrumentation and “Suck” more lively and laced with bongos, cowbells, and saxophones under Greer’s more calming voice.

Priests © Matthew J. Pandofle

From Priests’ themes, it’s easy to call them “feminist punks.” Their music is loud with shouting, they believe in equality, and are rebellious. They’re nonconforming, even to the “punk” genre itself as Greer often wears a frilly, aqua colored dress during their live shows. But they intentionally describe themselves as a “rock band” as to not personally benefit off of and commodify the subculture of feminist punk. They look to make art that speaks for itself, not to sell the idea of being rebels. It’s that sentiment that makes every word and every riff in Nothing Feels Natural so powerful.

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cover © Audrey Melton

Nothing Feels Natural – Priests

Priests – Nothing Feels Natural