By Maria Lubanovic,
[Sister Polygon Records; 2019]
Key tracks: “The Seduction of Kansas”, “Good Time Charlie”, “Carol”
Priests bring political power through twisted narrative lyrics and driving soundscapes, making their second LP on Sister Polygon, The Seduction of Kansas, a showcase of punk ideology and dirty rock riffs. Questions of bodily autonomy, motivation, perception and ambiguity arise, leading to a complex message that comes with a complete overhaul of their sound.
The Seduction of Kansas, a title stripped from historian Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? carries its heaviest hitting tracks with ambiguity and plentiful references to quintessential American pop culture. In “The Seduction of Kansas” and “Youtube Sartre”, American culture is broken down and fully exploited. With lines like “Senator, news anchor, Superman, and Dorothy / All of the Sunday dress mothers caress your face and say / It’s the last picture show, all the cowboys, they get ready / For a drawn-out, charismatic parody / Of what a country thought it used to be.” In “The Seduction of Kansas”, it’s clear that Priests are not pleased by is going on in America right now.
These references are frequently used as a comparison to the sterility of modern life, especially in the lyrics of “I’m Clean” where lead vocalist Katie Alice Greer compares herself to the Ice Queen from The Chronicles of Narnia who tempts you with Turkish Delight to act on her, not with her. She separates herself from the action, becoming someone who holds up a mirror to her partner. Even the vocals seem disjointed from the instrumentals, furthering this theme until Greer scrapes “Cause I’m clean (I’m clean) / You’re free (You’re free) / Please act upon me / No agency or complexity / Not a single feelin’ inside of me.”
Priests don’t shy away from an upbeat track to highlight a not-so-upbeat motive. “Good Time Charlie” is a perfect example of this, with quick drum lines and spoken word sections. But a sung chorus of “Congressman and goldenrod / Will weaponize the forgotten / Because they say we worship the same god.” This technique also shows up on “68 Screen”, a track about people making assumptions that obscure a real person.
Not every song hides its message so well. As instrumentals and synths take their time to mysteriously whirl and grow over plucky bass riffs, screechy singing rises in and out of the melodic lines. It lends a haunting effect to tracks like “Ice Cream” and “Not Perceived”. The singing completely drops out to leave Greer to speak freely in “Interlude: I Dream This Dream in Which My Body Is My Own” as guitars drone underneath. It’s hair-raising.
Overall, the album cradles the rage that follows its themes carefully and teeters along the edge of dropping it all off. This creates a powerful façade, one that is unfeeling on the surface as fury boils underneath. It’s a picture of American confusion, and it truly feels authentic to the struggle to be a free, autonomous person.