Priests’ garage-band indie-rock is not the kind of release that you hear every week, or month come to that. Their closest contemporary companions are probably Brit-stars Savages although they are still far from musical doppelgängers.
The four-piece D.C. band have more in common with the likes of early Blondie, The B52s and pre-Xenomania The Gossip: rambunctious and anarchic with charismatic female leads, live instruments and fearless energy which in 2017 is not a style that dominates the musical landscape.
They avoid sounding nostalgic though and aren’t sentimentalists and in Trump’s debut year, Nothing Feels Natural is the perfect record that, unknowingly, predicted and encapsulates the anxiety and horror now overtaking the psyches and lives of so many.
The album is naturally divided into two by an unexpectedly beautiful string coda, plainly titled ‘Interlude’. The first half is more dour, creeping in minor-key, although explosions of fury, fear and humour still rip through.
‘Jj’, which positions vocalist Katie Alice Greer as a raw and yowling Deborah Harry circa punk-era Blondie, creates identities for her and partner based on the brand of cigarettes they smoke. ‘You thought I was disgusting’ is the accusation levelled at her and one that she gleefully hurls back. ‘No Big Bang’ is the ferocious, wild-eyed core of Priests’ record and also clarifies their manifesto, one which is in direct opposition to the album’s title stance. ‘Daniele Daniele’ talks through her horror, revealing that sleepless nights caused by mounting neuroses and sadistic thoughts should be ripe moments for creativity – but is the madness responsible for the art or vice versa?
‘Pink White House’ is riled up with the chant of ‘Anything you want! Anything you want!’ whilst lists of what constitutes a particular American Dream are recited: ‘Come on nothing, come on surface meaning, come on cash grab…Come on streaming, come on nostalgia and 90s TV.’
‘Puff’ recommends that a friend who wants to start a group called ‘Burger King’ should do it and make their ‘dreams a reality!’ It’s childlike and funny and races along with a pitched hysteria that inspires inappropriate behaviour. Album closer ‘Suck’ is less crazed but no less energetic and wraps things up with a funky bassline, scritchy-scratchy guitar lines, disco cowbells that gleefully shake and clatter, and a squalling sax you may not have even noticed.
Many excitedly predict that following Trump there will be a welcome and long overdue explosion of creative ingenuity with an emphasis on social issues, almost as if this were a good enough reason for a country choosing an old-school sexist and racist egomaniac to govern their country. It isn’t, of course, and it’s also a naive assumption. Very real struggles have affected many for decades and contemporary culture has reflected this when it has been able to penetrate the malaise.
Priest have taken a long time to assemble their debut record and it was completed before the fears of many have been confirmed by this new four-year reality, therefore Nothing Feels Natural just feels like it’s bashing the zeitgeist when in fact it reflects a longer-term rot. Play this loud. Scream along and embrace the power.