Washington D.C.’s Priests clearly stated their refreshingly bedrock punk-rock concerns with the title of their 2014 EP, Bodies and Control and Money and Power. Their sound was refreshing too, at times recalling the Nineties riot grrrl idealism of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile on songs that took sharp shots at ye olde white male corporate oppression, while also turning a critical lens on the hypocrisies of the punk scene and the crushing illusions of liberal politics. “Barack Obama killed something in me and I’m gonna get him for it,” singer Katie Alice Greer yowled over hellacious guitar torment on “And Breeding,” summing up the mix of conviction and contradiction that fuels rock and roll at its most honest.
That truth-finding intensity hasn’t subsided one bit on Priests’ second full-length LP: “There’s no way to overthrow the bourgeoisie/Except tossing a hand grenade into your society,” Greer sings on “Youtube Sartre.” But The Seduction of Kansas follows its evocative title — an echo of Tom Frank’s 2004 critique of Republican populism What’s the Matter With Kansas — into wide-open new territory via multi-faceted explorations of what Greer calls “the manufactured mythology of Americanism.” The title track surveys middle-American archetypes, heroes and villains (Superman, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, The Last Picture Show, “Wichita Lineman,” Applebees, the Koch Brothers), with Greer sounding like David Byrne in Talking Heads’ 1978 song “The Big Country,” floating over the countryside torn between wonder and contempt. Elsewhere, lyrics take inspiration from the movie Charlie Wilson’s War (“Good Time Charlie”) and the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” (“Jesus’ Son”). The music fits the expansive mood, at once dreamy and pointed, suggesting a psychedelic mutation of Southern indie-rock gods Pylon’s agrarian art-disco or David Bowie’s Scary Monsters toughened up on a Factory Records budget.
As with the greatest anti-fascist ranters, Priests’ critiques hit home hardest when they are singing from inside capitalism’s and sexism’s matrices of exploitation, turning impassioned theory into resonate practice. “I killed myself to make you see your own perversity,” drummer Daniele Daniele sings over the subterranean crawl of “I’m Clean,” playing a woman who turns her constriction and submission into a mirror that reveals her oppressor. “Control Freak” is specially wicked, with Greer getting inside the twisted psychology of power as Priests ride a doom-surf squall into the darkest depths of human fucked-up-ness. It’s moments like this that make you excited — and even a little frightened — to see where this band could go next.