Genre: Art Punk
Favorite Tracks: “Jesus’ Son,” “The Seduction of Kansas,” “Youtube Sartre,” “Good Time Charlie,” “68 Screen,” “Carol,” “Texas Instruments”
Were Kansas to compete in a Sexiest State competition, the oddsmakers in Vegas would surely classify The Sunflower State as a longshot. Not quite Leicester City Premier League Title territory, but certainly not worth betting your house on. For most of the country, it gets lumped in with the rest of the flyover states, rarely crossing anyone’s mind save for the occasional punchline or a Jayhawks Final Four appearance. But it also serves as the setting for a mythology woven deep into the country’s culture, a mythology gasping for air as the embers turn to flames.
While America’s established institutions reveal themselves to be in comic disarray, Priests have proven themselves to be one of the few great things to emerge from the nation’s capital. Since their inception in 2012, the band has positioned itself as a rejection of the powers that be, operating under their own independent label while making music that stands head and shoulders above their peers. Their fierce debut LP was a smash hit here at MGRM and THE SEDUCTION OF KANSAS exceeds the loftiest of expectations.
“Jesus’ Son” picks up where “Suck” left off, combining their new wave influences and punk edge into a sacreligious banger. Katie Alice Greer’s hook carries the back half as she repeatedly screams of “I am Jesus’ son / I think I wanna hurt someone / I’m young and dumb and full of cum,” which will surely horrify the three Evangelists who accidentally stumble upon the record. Priests venture out of their comfort zone on “68 Screen,” the album’s knuckleball—tasking just about any other band with finding a way to take their template and graft an anthemic, almost call-and-response bridge with early DFA-esque synth work onto it would result in total failure, but Priests absolutely nail it.
Greer’s storytelling and imagery is magnificent, especially on “Good Time Charlie.” While interspersing melodic spoken word asides maligning the grotesque opulence of the elite’s extravagance, she tells the story of Charlie, an avatar for the shittiest guys this country has to offer. Debaucherous in the most juvenile ways (genuflecting in jacuzzis, drunk at his office, gilded clothing), Charlie stumbles to power at the expense of the defenseless but his depravity is waved away because he aligns religiously—at least superficially—with those who support him. Greer digs the knife deeper on the title track, laying out a cast of cultural characters from Kansas who’ll be laid to waste by people like the Koch Brothers, but the song also dives deeper into the the ways those in power have used religion as a weapon among their base, attracting allegiance through cursory aesthetics rather than substantial, constructive ideology and action.
The restrictive influence of religion looms on tracks like “Control Freak,” which, like much of Priests’ work, centers on the concept of controlling one’s own body. It’s combative, not out of want, but out of self defense: “If you misunderstood like I’m some kind of enemy / when I’m the one in charge of all the things that make it be.” Greer expands on this in the interlude towards the end of the record, a spoken word performance about possession and expression. Simultaneously beautiful and bleak, Greer fantasizes about a day in which she will have full control over her body, conceding that this will only happen once she’s dead. The permanence of possession erodes in the last couplet when she admits that as her dream becomes clearer it becomes less attainable. It resonates more than an interlude has any right to and informs repeat listens of the record, serving as the thesis on a record full of them. “Texas Instruments” posits Texas as a microcosm for the country by recounting its nasty history and alluding to its impending demise neatly tying a bow on a fantastic record. Be it Texas, Kansas, or any of the other 48, America’s mask is off, but at least we’ve got a killer soundtrack.