ALBUM REVIEW: Priests – The Seduction of Kansas

On their second outing, Priests are trying to seduce Kansas. The Sunflower State is an unusual inspiration for an album but, on The Seduction of Kansas, Priests pose questions and weave intriguing stories together. They are now in their eighth year as a band and drummer Daniele Daniele, singer Katie Alice Greer and guitarist G.L. Jaguar are in inspired form, with no sign of fatigue or slowing down! Priests roped in two key collaborators when it came to their second album. Janel Leppin helped breathe life into demos for The Seduction of Kansas and acted as a fourth songwriting body. John Congleton has produced for the likes of Wild Beasts and St. Vincent – so it was a bit of a dream meeting. He and the band spent two weeks recording at his Elmwood Studio in Dallas. It was the first time the group worked with anyone outside of the Washington D.C. community and, in many ways, this trust and openness has added layers to their work.

2017’s Nothing Feels Natural was a confident debut from Priests and gained a lot of critical acclaim. Bassist Alexandra Tyson is another collaborator – who joined the touring band – and, also their second record, Priests match aggression and introspection in a similar manner to Massive Attack on Mezzanine or Portishead on Third. The Seduction of Kansas’ first single, its eponymous cut, is the band at their most pop and adventurous. It has dark elements but at its heart is a glistening and glittering sound. The album itself asks questions regarding America’s mythologies and realities in 2019…but does not give them easily. Listeners are free to interpret and chart their own path as they dive into a bold and beautiful album.

Maybe it is John Congleton’s input by The Seduction of Kansas’ opening track, ‘Jesus’ Son’, opens with scratchy, squally guitars that have as much rhythm as they do fire. Our heroine is the “chosen one” and has been told she is Jesus’ son. These are cryptic words but, like the album as a whole, one thinks about America and its citizens’ place in the country. Maybe the song is about politicians who abuse power or think they are too big to lead; maybe it is more personal and grounded but, throughout, you are captured by an addictive melody and a raw core – one thinks of Blondie, actually, when hearing the vocal and the tone of the song. There are almost grunge-like couplets and sensibilities when we hear the lead sing about being young and dumb; wanting to hurt someone and being like the rising sun. One can summo images of the frontier and how the West was won and feel that Priests are keen to explore the mythologies of America’s past – the song, though, sounds very much rooted in the present and worried about the future. ‘The Seduction of Kansas’ keeps a sense of local geography as we hear about cornfields and something more rustic. There are visions of mothers caressing faces of children/adults and cowboys getting ready. In some ways, there is this old-world view of Kansas but, as the state has not radically evolved in a lot of senses, there is some modern charm and relevance. The band is tight through every song and the vocals are great but, to me, it is the lyrical descriptions and evocativeness that brings the music to life. ‘The Seduction of Kansas’ is the perfect example of a song packed with life and movement but it never gets too busy – instead, you have this almost-cinematic story being unfurled.

‘Youtube Sartre’ (with its great title) is one of the more tense and ramped songs on the album. Warning those who see themselves as virtual saviours and philosophers, we switch from something classic-sounding to a tale that seems to concern our digital society. Yowling guitars and a thumping percussive heart gives the song plenty of kick-and-groove whilst the lead vocal is consistently engaging and emotive. ‘I’m Clean’ is more meditative and crawling. Our heroine says she is clean but there has always been a temptation. She is no saint – thinking, maybe, she was Grace Kelly – and is a b*tch. It is a punk-edged swagger that is backed by some slicing guitar work and a great bass sound. Whether speaking about a friend or lover, the heroine does not want to be dragged down and corrupted – even if she says there isn’t a single feeling inside of her. ‘Ice Cream’ and ‘Good Time Charlie’ keep the album driving and compelling. The former has dual-vocals and a great interplay; a hypnotic sense of physicality and, again, plenty of bass groove! One brings to mind Bikini Kill when hearing the vocal chants and slightly murky sound. ‘Good Time Charlie’ opens with a nice joke – like good pornography, this story is rather touching – we are guided through the topless in Las Vegas and fighting the oppressors. Implacable machines and bent congressmen are all rifled and exposed and one gets the sense modern American politics is in the spotlight. Excess, warfare and contrition all play alongside one another as Priests lacerate and reveal those in power who seem not to have the people’s interests at heart.

’68 Screen’ talks of images, bright lights and being obscured – and boasts stuttering vocals and a nicely punchy percussive sound. It sports all the key Priests ingredients but, compared to some of the stronger songs that sandwich it, it is not as catchy and memorable as one would hope. ‘Not Perceived’ – by far the longest track on the album – and ‘Control Freak’ take the record in new directions. The former is a slowly-building song that showcases more melody, softness and dreamy layers – strange and welcomed against the more aggressive and energised songs that have come before. It is a nice place to recharge and unwind as the band present one of their most ambitious and interesting songs to date. It probably owes more to Cocteau Twins, compositionally, and shows how adaptable and nimble Priests are. ‘Control Freak’ is, perhaps, the most immediate and finest track on The Seduction of Kansas. The tightness, energy and raw teeth that bane and savage is addictive; the track tumbles and rumbles and I can imagine ‘Control Freak’ being a live favourite. There is plenty of variation and difference on the album and, on the final few tracks, the band covers different genres and moods. ‘Texas Instruments’ is another tough, stormy and memorable track that paints its own pictures and makes you wonder.

The Seduction of Kansas is definitely a different-sounding record than Nothing Feels Natural. John Congleton brings grit and a more pared-down sound to the band whilst changes regarding collaboration add fresh perspectives to their camp. All of this has strengthened and expanded their music rather than changed their dynamic and personality. The Seduction of Kansas is distinctly the work of Priests but it is a step forward and definitely a sense of awakening. If you are new to Priests then you do not need to start with their debut to understand them and get a real sense of who they are. Priests are touring North America but will be in the U.K. in May. They play Brighton’s The Great Escape on 11th May and come through Bristol, Manchester; Glasgow, Leeds and London – moving onto Europe and barely having time to take breath. The Seduction of Kansas is a great album that seeps into the blood and resonates first time around but, the more you listen, the more new stuff comes through. It is a fantastic album that will please music lovers across multiple genres and, at the end of the day, you can’t ask for more than that!

The Seduction of Kansas is available from 5th April through Sister Polygon Records. Order the album here.