Tuesday, 09. July 2019, recordBar, PRIESTS @ recordBar

7 PM DOOR8 PM SHOWPRIESTSWhat is at stake in the seduction of Kansas? Like a gavel or hammer, the question rattles across thesecond LP from Washington, D.C. rock iconoclasts Priests: The Seduction of Kansas. Seduction evokespleasure, ***. Divorced from romance, seduction is a tactic of manipulation, a ploy in the politics ofpersuasion. Kansas is a compass. As the journalist Thomas Frank explored in his 2004 book What’s theMatter With Kansas?, the ideological sway of Kansas has often predicted the direction in which the move—whether leaning socialist in the 1800s or going staunchly conservative in the 1980s. “There’ssomething sinister about the idea of seducing a whole state,” says drummer Daniele Daniele. “You’reclearly up to something. Why would you do it?” The title—like Priests—is a moving target, probingquestions about the realities and mythologies of America in 2019 without giving in to easy their eighth year as a band, Priests—Daniele, vocalist Katie Alice Greer, and guitarist an inspired anomaly in modern music. A band on its own label, Sister PolygonRecords—jolting the greater music world with early releases by Downtown Boys, Snail Mail, Sneaks, andGauche—they are living proof that it is still possible to work on one’s own terms, to collectively cultivateone’s own world. Bred in punk, Priests play rock’n’roll that is as intellectually sharp as it is focused onpop’s thrilling pleasure centers, that is topical without sloganeering. The high-wire physicality of theirlive shows, the boldness of their Barbara Kruger-invoking visual statements, their commitment tocultural, political, and aesthetic critique—it’s all made Priests one of the most exciting bands of theirgeneration, subversive in a literal sense, doing things you would not fireworks of noise and arresting melodies both, Priests’ 2017 debut LP Nothing Feels Natural washeralded as a modern classic of “post-punk”—but Priests feels urgently present. If Nothing Feels Naturalwas like an album-length ode to possibility, then The Seduction of Kansas exists within the adventurousworld its predecessor pried open. If Nothing was the reach and conviction of a band pushing beyonditself, willing itself into existence on its own terms, then Kansas stands boldly in the self-possessed spaceit carved. Its 10 pop songs are like short stories told from uncanny perspectives, full of fire and make up Priests’ most immediate and musically cohesive record, a bracing leap forward in a catalogfull of them.The path was not easy. Following the amicable departure of bassist Taylor Mulitz (now leading Flasher),Priests was faced with a challenge not unlike “sawing off the fourth leg of a chair, and rebuilding it tobalance on three.” The challenge was difficult, something not unexpected for an egalitarian group ofstrong personalities. They had to rethink the interlocking dynamic of their band. “It’s almost like theversion of Priests that made Nothing Feels Natural really died; we didn’t have time to grieve about thatand also had to build a Frankenstein’s monster of a new version of Priests,” Greer says. The uncertaintybrought a kind of nothing to lose, Priests took risks: leaning into a realm of greater poetic license, of surrealism,menace, and pleasure. Jaguar reimagined his guitar playing, inspired by Bowie’s Berlin trilogy and hislate-1970s guitarists like Carlos Alomar, Adrian Belew, and Robert Fripp. Greer embraced lyrics “thatfelt intuitively fun and good” and tried to shed anxieties about being misunderstood. Daniele movedtowards more easeful rhythms, contributes a spoken-word interlude, and sings three songs. Meditating onthe U.S., they arrived at sinister themes, sketching out characters who acknowledge their power overothers, and questioning (sometimes by virtue of ignoring) why it sometimes feels good to be enlisted two primary collaborators in writing, arranging, and recording The Seduction of playing cello, mellotron, and pedal steel guitar on Nothing Feels Natural, multi-instrumentalistJanel Leppin (Mellow Diamond, Marissa Nadler) returned to breathe air into Priests’ demos, serving asprimary bassist and a fourth songwriting collaborator on The Seduction of Kansas. The band also found akindred spirit in producer John Congleton (Angel Olsen, St. Vincent), recording for two weeks at hisElmwood Studio in Dallas. It marked the band’s first time opening up their creative work to collaboratewith someone outside of their DC-based community—a decidedly less hermetic approach. Priests found athird collaborator in bassist Alexandra Tyson, who has also joined the touring band. The songwritingprocess found the group once again analyzing the textures and scopes of albums as aggressive as they areintrospective, like Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, Portishead’s Third, and Nine Inch Nails’ remains one of rock’s most evocative lyricists. The Seduction of Kansas stitches images of USAmythology—Superman and Dorothy, cowboys and Hollywood, politicians and news anchors, Pizza Hut,White Castle, Applebees, Dollar Tree, The Last Picture Show, the Koch Brothers, airplanes, cornfields,the Macy’s Day Parade, strip mall—in vivid, novelistic detail. “I am fascinated with myth-making,” Greersays of her lyrics, mentioning a pointed interest in “the manufactured mythology of Americanism,” in thestories—true, false, erased, exaggerated—our elected leaders and society tell us, the ways we“communicate our values and our national sense of self.” The filmmaker Adam Curtis—who has usedsome of his documentaries to “talk about how neo-conservatism has successfully seduced the Americanheart and mind” through righteousness, image, metaphor—was an influence. “In a macro sense, I think ifwe, as sociologists of our own culture and nation, try to observe and understand these symbols andmythologies that have largely informed our national sense of self, maybe it would be helpful right now, intrying to figure out what the **** are we going to do about this awful mess we’ve made (of the country, ofthe world),” Greer oblique Americana feels appropriate at a perilous time in the U.S., when nothing feels logical. It isespecially present on the album’s psychological thriller of a title track, which is Priests’ purest pop songto date, dark and glittering—though there is still something fantastically off about it, decadent and uneasyat once. Illustrating Kansas’ potent place in our national imagination—as well as “a chorus of whoever istrying to persuade the social consciousness of Kansas”—Greer sings brilliantly of a “bloodthirsty cherubchoir” in a cornfield, of “a drawn out charismatic parody of what a country through it used to be,”beckoning that “I’m the one who loves you.” The album’s lead single, “The Seduction of Kansas” doeswhat Priests do best: They make us think, stir us with complexity.“Jesus’ Son” and “I’m Clean,” both singles, do the same. They feature dark, complicatedprotagonists—like descendents of Kathy Acker tales—and explore the reality that one can (and oftendoes) swing wildly between the poles of oppression and domination. Amid the vicious, cool air of “I’mClean,” Daniele’s narrator is a murderess who emerges from a societally-induced period of dissociativebehavior to seek revenge and fulfill her fantasies. On the sardonic, Lou Reed-invoking “Jesus’ Son,”Greer presents another unsavory character—a man “who thinks he is special enough to justify doingsomething selfish and awful,” who proclaims “I’m young and dumb and full of ***… I think I want tohurt someone.” Priests see a connection between these evil personalities and the “obnoxious, unwarrantedconfidence” of “American swagger.”Elsewhere on The Seduction of Kansas, Priests’ buoyant sound boils with truths about the perversetyranny of history. “Texas Instruments” (inspired by David Byrne’s True Stories) and “Good TimeCharlie” (inspired by Charlie Wilson’s War) meditate on the violence of colonialism. The breezy “68Screen,” sung by Daniele, is about feeling tokenized, while the spectral three-part harmonies on “IceCream” muse on the sweet taste of anger unleashed. “YouTube Sartre” sprung from a quiet moment,staring at the philosopher on screen: “There’s no way to overthrow the bourgeoisie/Except tossing a handgrenade into your society,” Greer sings. And the riffy closing banger “Control Freak” is like Priests’insurrectionary Bodies era, but better—a grotesque, funhouse depiction of a power-tripping person at warwith the two sides of Priests mention, as usual, an exciting array of references—from the Chris Kraus essay “PayAttention” and the Eileen Myles anthology The New **** You to The Twilight Zone—they hesitate todelineate it all. Greer sees that as a pro-art gesture. “I believe very deeply in the healing, sustaining, andtransformative power of art, both on a personal and societal level,” she says. “It is essential to ourwellbeing, and it is constantly under attack in so many big and small ways. These days, people are tryingto justify the utility of art by explaining that it’s educational, or teaching morals or values. People want topick apart art and media and figure out if it is saying something Important or if it is Problematic anddeserves to be Cancelled. In the USA we don’t have a public education system we can be proud of, weraise people to be obedient rather than think critically. As a result, we put this bizarre expectation on ourmedia, entertainment, and art to educate us, and sometimes we even decide that if art isn’t performing thistask, it isn’t really worthwhile. That’s a horribly anti-art attitude to take; I’m super against it. I tried tokeep that central to my contributions to this album.” Without offering a mandate in either direction, TheSeduction of Kansas asks us to consider these stakes, to consider the consequences of a binary.In her iconic essay Against Interpretation, the cultural critic Susan Sontag wrote, “In place of ahermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” It’s a line that has informed the aesthetic vocabulary of Priests,who are not handing out answers but still suggest a profound one: In the daily crisis, we need to think ourway through. “Art is meant to be incendiary, meant to make you feel and see and enrich your otherwisetepid human existence,” Greer says. “It’s been fun to bring that sensibility to Priests more, to write songsabout possibly awful people doing questionable things, to adorn a song with enticing baubles that don’texplain themselves... but, I hope, will seduce the listener closer.”

PRIESTS @ recordBar

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