Saying nothing about the quality of their fierce full-length debut Nothing Feels Natural, Priests are capable of much more than they let on in 2017. Prior to this release, they were making perfectly good—if not great—highly enjoyable punk rock (especially if you’re already primed to enjoy that sort of thing). They were hailed harbingers of a new post-punk wave radiating from Washington D.C.’s storied scene. But The Seduction of Kansas exists in a genre-less vacuum. You don’t need to be a punk fan to enjoy this record. Like shoegaze? Metal? Pop? Indie rock? Come hither. On their second studio album, Priests prove themselves to be highly intellectual and creative songsmiths, drawing on not only their D.C. punk roots but also some adventurous pop sensibilities, all while serving up searing, sage commentary on Middle American ideals. The Seduction of Kansas is a daring flirtation with anarchy.
The album’s first whisper of satire takes shape in the provocative opener “Jesus’ Son.” A nod to The Velvet Underground, the track is as memorable a rock song you’ll hear in 2019. Though the band disclosed in a press release it is “an apocalyptic sci-fi tale of epic proportions,” it’s also a heated takedown of male entitlement. “Jesus’ Son” imagines the apocalypse not as the Second Coming—Christ descending unto Earth, bathed in heavenly light—but as some kind of warped dystopia where the Messiah appears as an entitled scumbag, no better than a pouty Brett Kavanaugh demanding he be throned on highest court in the land. Vocalist Katie Alice Greer convincingly plays the part of the “young,” “dumb” antichrist wreaking havoc on a crumbling society. ”I am Jesus’ son,” she sings (or more like warbles). “I think I wanna hurt someone / I’m young and dumb and full of cum.”
“Jesus’ Son” rolls effortlessly into the darkly fuzzed-out pop banger that is this album’s title track. Borrowing from pop, be it plucking actual sonic qualities or naming the latest indie subgenre (“dream pop,” “bedroom pop,” “indie pop” etc.), is all the rage right now. Priests hopped on the bandwagon and took some of those same characteristics (swirling white noise, accelerated BPM and a ruthless electric guitar) and ascribed them to a thoughtful rumination on our collective idealization of an oft forgotten state, the album’s thematic tether, Kansas. Greer posits our country’s geographical center as a microcosm for all of America, citing, in a distorted singsong, middle class landmarks like “White Castle, Pizza Hut and even Applebee’s” as well as characters like “Senator, news anchor, Superman and Dorothy.” Rather than morn a bygone American era, Priests wonder if the American Dream was just a hallucination: “All the cowboys, they get ready / For a drawn out charismatic parody / of what a country thought it used to be.”
Teasing the “hot-blooded tramp inside your mind,” “I’m Clean” finds Greer claiming “I’m that bitch” before flipping the buoyant rock song into a persuasion of another, non-sexual kind, asking listeners to recognize the disgust inside themselves and, in turn, in our hectic moment—“forced to see yourself inside these stakes.” Much of the album works that way, like a mirror, beckoning you to face yourself and admit the part you may have played in America’s descent into both the illogical and the sinister. On the choppy, tumbling “Carol,” Greer asks, “Do you believe in vision, free of actions or feelings?”
The album draws to an eerie close with an interlude during which Greer poeticizes a body over which she has complete control. It’s jarring to hear before the focused, upbeat closer, “Texas Instruments,” a historical manifesto inspired by the vignettes in David Byrne’s 1986 film True Stories. “Give us the sound and give us the silence,” Greer demands throughout.
Both poppy and heady, intelligent and reckless, and sometimes bordering on absurdist, The Seduction of Kansas calls into question the social landscape of the American heartland and poses Priests as punk’s resident anthropologists. First heralded as post-punk heroes, Priests are now much more than that: They’re post-genre saviors bringing vital discourse and sharp observations to the table, still preaching the punk gospel along the way. The Seduction of Kansas is full of tantalizing tales fraught with disturbed characters, some of whom seem far removed from reality, while others are scarily reminiscent of humanity.