by Jonathan Bannister (@j_utah)
Given the bands history, the current cultural climate online, in the streets, and in the halls of power, it’s easy to want to tag Nothing Feels Natural as an overt statement about now. An album that saw all the signs and knew the road we were collectively heading down. In a sense that’s true, because when has anything really felt natural? Life is a struggle for the majority of people on this planet. An ordeal where success is counted by just getting to the end of the day and waking to see the next. For many, the big questions don’t enter into their lives and this is something that Priests handle well on their first full length: the politics of our every day lives. We might not be asking ourselves the big questions in plain language, but they are found woven throughout our existence.
“JJ,” the first single from the album, first sounds like a simple song about a bad relationship. Layered within the heartache one finds bigger thoughts about identity, happiness, and what (if anything) we can expect to get in this life. “The most interesting thing about you/ was that you smoked Parliaments/ the baby-est cigarettes/ I thought I was a cowboy because I smoked Reds/ you thought I was disgusting,” Katie Alice Greer sings. The hurt comes through her vocal tone, however, what is more interesting is the use of the cigarette brands. Parliaments with their hipster cred — their fancy filters a calling card — while Marlboro Reds are those of the no nonsense smoker (and Camels being the domain of the cool and we know it). The way we define ourselves by the brands we use, the way we define others by those same brands. Another way to stereotype and file away so we avoid the hard work of really knowing someone. “I wrote a bunch of songs for you/ but you never knew and you never deserved them/ who ever deserves anything anyway/ what a stupid concept.” Again woven within the normal steps of getting over a breakup lies the hard truth that nothing is guaranteed in this life whether it be mixtapes or love.
Another idea found throughout Nothing Feels Natural is the tug and pull of wanting to be committed to your beliefs and ideals while navigating a life of compromise amid a culture of relativism. “Feels good to buy something you can’t afford” Greer sings on opening track “Appropriate.” Indeed it does. Elsewhere on “Nicki” she sings “Yes it’s true I want more.” Are dreams even worth having anymore? Be true to your school as a way of life seems untenable these days; to stick to your guns is to likely starve; to waste away in the dump known as integrity; to compromise means security but at the sacrifice of your soul. At least this is how it feels. But as age marches on, the line in the sand fades. “No, it's not for anyone and I can't wait until it's done” Greer adds on the somber title track. No answers are easily found, something that one ultimately has to figure out on their own.
Musically the album finds the band more refined, less aggressive. There is nuance where once there was flat out aggression. On the pop surf of “JJ,” the spoken word punk of “No Big Bang,” the flat out danceability of album closer “Suck;” GL Jaguar’s guitar is bright and vibrant throughout, working in short bursts like a machine gun. Daniele Daniele’s hi-hat and toms are light and heavy accents, the backbone and force of the band driving the songs along with Taylor Mulitz's nimble post-punk bass playing. They’ve grown extremely tight, each part working with the others for the cohesive whole. There’s a confidence that comes through the speakers and that one can see when they play live. They are a whole unit, working together as one force, fully in charge of the statement they are putting out into the world.
Priests are indeed a band for now. A band that isn’t afraid to wrestle with the tough questions. At times confrontational, others times surprisingly tender. Personas that are needed in these turbulent times. Just don’t look to them to have all the answers. Priests will make you seek them out yourself. Content with merely putting the doubt in your mind. Is this really all there is? Is there something more? If only all our philosophical quandaries sounded so good to the ears.