Music has a habit of coming along at just the right time. Nothing Feels Natural is the debut full-length album from Washington D.C. punk band Priests, and arrives less than a week after what is being referred to as the biggest organised protest in history. Like those history-making marchers who took to the streets this past weekend, Priests are galvanised, focused, and angry.
It's hard to think of an album opener more confronting than "Appropriate." It starts with drummer Daniele Daniele pounding out an anxious tattoo on the toms, building in tension before vocalist Katie Alice Greer howls "It feels good to buy something you can't afford." In the first minutes of the record, Priests have taken aim at the pervasive toxicity of capitalism, and seek to dismantle it in the same way the song dismantles itself into atonal saxophone bleats and haywire guitars. Here, Priests will either repulse you, or have you fully in their grasp.
Priests play with a distinctive style not unlike fellow east coast band The Feelies, with a strong, overwhelming focus on rhythm. Daniele and bassist Taylor Mulitz are the beating heart of the record. On the single "JJ," the guitars and piano play a detuned surf boogie, while the rhythm section drives the song, tumbling over itself in a queasy but deeply affecting way. Greer has a blunt and strident singing style that sticks in her throat as she forcefully spits out her matter-of-fact lyrics.
On this record, Priests are gnashing their teeth, their ferociousness tempered with a keen sense of irony and a cocked eyebrow. "Pink White House," particularly prescient after the most recent U.S. presidential election, finds Greer cooing "Ooh baby, my American dream," with barely restrained disgust. She asks, where's the American dream for queer people and people of colour? Where's the American dream they were promised?
Slowing the pace down after the thundering "No Big Bang," a feverish spoken-word piece featuring flurries of percussion and a morose morse-code guitar line, the title track proves the band's songwriting chops. Moving fluidly through different sections, and featuring a soaring guitar riff that draws it to a spectacular crescendo, "Nothing Feels Natural" is a portrait of modern life unparalleled in its perceptiveness and intelligence.
The rattlesnake funk of album closer "Suck" is cool and unworried, but not impassive. It's a challenge. After Priests have laid everything out, they're ready to rumble. And despite their American perspective, their call to arms resonates here in Australia too, where we face many of the same challenges. Nothing Feels Natural isn't just a great, original, modern punk record - it's an affirmation that compromise isn't the way forward, and when our way of life is encroached upon we hit back.
Nothing Feels Natural is out on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on Friday January 27th.