D.C.-based rockers Priests have come a long way from the energetic, grating post-punk of their full-length debut Nothing Feels Natural, and further still from that displayed on Bodies and Control and Money and Power, the EP that preceded it.
Considering how emblematic vocalist Katie Alice Greer’s hoarse howls and growls have become (especially on the surfy “JJ” and the off-kilter “And Breeding”), the most surprising part of The Seduction of Kansas is just how true to its name it is: on it, Priests tone down the punk drastically, trading it in for an aesthetic better represented by reverb-soaked guitars and a much more lush soundscape.
Still, those looking for more grating goodness will be satisfied with songs like “Control Freak,” wherein Greer lets loose with more abandon than is apparent on the rest of the record. Despite that, the band’s turn towards a more brooding, easily-digestible, quasi-pop is a welcome change. Driving bass and tom interplay still propels tracks forwards with an uneasy tension, but the addition of synths and a less combative production make for a record that, while more almost dream-pop, is still Priests-flavoured.
The almost spoken-word interlude is, of course, reminiscent of Nothing Feels Natural’s “No Big Bang.” Each track embodies a speech-as-music approach to songwriting, but while “No Big Bang” decidedly makes every attempt to unnerve its listener (overlapping rhythms, echoing vocals which add to the tension, an overarching narrative about the horrifying existence of moments when the mind fails to make anything meaningful out of its surroundings), “Interlude: I Dream This Dream in Which My Body Is My Own” is, while still somewhat unnerving, reflective of a trait which “No Big Bang” seems to inherently reject: acceptance of the self. While not an ethos for the record in its own right, “Interlude” perhaps signals the change that makes The Seduction of Kansas as appealing as it is: a turn towards the introspective without an inherently oppositional goal at the start. Instead, the observations made throughout Seduction come across as unnerving in their mundane sources. More than that, the patience with which they unfold in front of us marks a transition in Priests’ discography that’s as surprising as it is welcome.
Still, tracks like “Good Time Charlie” and “Youtube Sartre” embrace the dissonance that permeated Priests’ earlier work while threading it through a structure that’s less impulsive or nihilistic than its predecessors. Whether or not that’s necessarily a bad thing is up to individual listeners, and while The Seduction of Kansas is by no means a pop record by today’s standards, its watery, sometimes-lush, sometimes-grating dichotomy makes it a great entry point for listeners who haven’t before heard Priests, and bring something new to the table for those already familiar with the band.