By Ché Salgado
Album: Nothing Feels Natural
Released: January 27, 2017
It was reported in 2014 that Rivers Cuomo of Weezer found Priests “charming”. For a few people, this endorsement might have seemed confusing. The clean-cut front man of the band that brought us “Beverly Hills” giving a cosign to the raw, sociopolitical D.C. punk quartet that is Priests–it seemed out of place. But in the Rivers Cuomo of 1994-1996 and Priests frontwoman Katie Alice Greer, there’s a huge similarity: their lyrics hold nothing back. Priests is the sort of band that dedicates a whole track (“Usa: incantations” of Tape Two) to explaining why the United States has never been the shining beacon of principle, hope and prosperity it’s always billed itself to be, accusing those who believe that mess to have some form of Stockholm syndrome while dropping an excellent reference (“This is some, ‘He Hit Me (And it Felt Like a Kiss)’ logic.”) Priests is the sort of band to have a spoken word track about how Greer, while high in the wee hours in the morning on kratom, realizes that she’s insignificant and nothing matters. All of these things, like Rivers’ lyrics, are potentially eye-roll inducing, but before you do, let this reviewer lay something down for you.
Whether they like it or not, Priests’ new record (off their own Sister Polygon label) is fit for the times, and given its already sociopolitical content, feels like a direct reaction to… everything, just everything. Released exactly a week after our hopes for a better 2017 were dashed by the beginning of The Trump Years, Nothing Feels Natural conveys a lot of things that aren’t too uncommon these days. The aforementioned “Usa: Incantations” ends with a ring of hope, the possibility that progress could make these United States the entity we’ve been billing ourselves as since 1776. But that was 2015. In 2017, Priests are less hopeful. Directly countering this, on “No Big Bang”, Greer’s lyrics tell us that we can make all the progress we want, it doesn’t mean anything. And similarly in November we were sorely reminded that we can give lip-service to the progress made in society by other people or past generations, but unless we confront it in our own… well, we all know.
We can advance all we want but the spectre of our nation’s past never seems to leave and suddenly the narrative is thrown into question. In an age where, in regard to a certain set of famous emails, the following is said on Fox and Friends on national television to millions of people: “I don’t believe she’s innocent no matter what the ruling, I’m an American and I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes.”, everything starts to seem a little post-modern and in question. And it’s in this atmosphere that Nothing Feels Natural works best. It’s not a State of the Nation address like other albums, it’s not It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, it’s not Queen is Dead, What’s Going On?, Winter in America, it’s not even what it’s probably most related to, Gang of Four’s furious 1981 record, Solid Gold. Rather, perhaps this record is simply that, a record, of what it’s like to be a 20-something liberal in a nation that’s just proved how conservative it can be. Songs like the title track offer not anthems, but glimpses into this life. The lyrics on the opening track “It’s a long movie” in a way describe how this is all going to feel: in 50 years has America ever been so aware of what this is all going to mean? In what’s probably the album’s best song, “Suck”, Greer pleads with the entities that threaten to steal something from her. “Please don’t make me be/Someone with no sympathy.” And we understand that in these times, despite everything that’s going on, despite those that belittle us, calling us “snowflakes” when we object and then enemies of free speech when we rise up, we have a pining for innocence. It almost seems unfair, the number of people who will come out of this less gentle than they were before.
So maybe in 2017 it’s time we reconsidered those eyerolls at tales of late-night kratom-induced talks, eyerolls at statements of fact about the United States’ history, eyerolls at the blatant honesty not only of Priests but of everyone. Because perhaps in our efforts to be above it, to be able to scoff at the pining River Cuomos of the world, we went too far and ended up silencing those with something to say–for the sake of what? Irony? Did we somehow ironic ourselves back into some weird pre-counterculture repression where one won’t be blatantly honest about what’s in their heart because it’ll warrant a raised eyebrow, a scoff or a knowing grin? Maybe we should take Priests’ lead and endeavor in 2017 to be better to each other in solidarity. In the days and weeks and months and years ahead, things will likely happen that will embitter us, but perhaps by adhering to this record of a post-Obama life, our sense of compassion and empathy can come out unscathed.