'The Seduction of Kansas' by Priests, album review by Leslie Chu.

Sister Polygon Records

8.5

Priests

The Seduction of Kansas

DC punks Priests have returned with their second album, The Seduction of Kansas. They’ve pared down to a trio – singer Katie Alice Greer, drummer Daniele Daniele, and guitarist G.L. Jaguar – although the album features Janel Leppin and Alexandra Tyson on bass. (The former also contributed songwriting.) In any configuration, Priests always have something to say, and they once again grab listeners by the collar and force them to pay attention.

The album’s title refers to Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. In it, he explores how the rise of conservatism in the state has disseminated far-right political ideologies across the rest of the country. These ideologies shape the characters Priests skewer on The Seduction of Kansas.

Like the rest of the album, the title-track indicates a musical shift for the band. They’ve dressed thumping punk in pop catchiness and electronic darkness. An unexpected electronic interlude interrupts “Carol,” for example. Priests’ brand new coat is not polished perfection, though. It’s light shining through smudged glass. It’s the sound of a knife grinding against a sharpening stone.

Throughout the album, Greer adopts dueling voices. One moment, she is the oppressor. The next, she is the oppressed. She embodies self-sanctifying, know-it-all narcissists – like the one currently running Priests’ home country. “I am Jesus’ son. I sparkle like a setting sun. I am Jesus’ son. I think I wanna hurt someone.” Greer sings these lines on album-opener “Jesus’ Son” with malice, like she wants to wield her power to hurt someone.

On “YouTube Sartre,” she switches to second person. “Don’t believe yourself to be virtuous about anything,” she sings above elastic bass notes. She exposes people in even greater depth on “I’m Clean.” While the song plods along with a clubfooted lub-dub beat, Greer assumes moral superiority. “All these disgusting things you do, you do, you do, but not me…. I killed myself to make you see your own perversity.”

Greer fights to expose others as hard as she fights to show her true self. On “68 Screen,” she shoves back against gaslighting: “Ideas you’ve projected on me. Images you used to cover me. The bright light that obscures my being. I would tear myself in half to destroy the screen that’s got you wrapped up in these ideas of me you’ve projected on me, imposed upon me.” Despite the subject matter, the song is danceable. with low-fidelity New Wave guitar angles.

On the much slower, low-hanging “Not Perceived,” Greer reveals a desire to stay hidden. She fears being misinterpreted. More gravely, though, she fears for her physical safety. “When I’m alone, always feel like somebody’s in my home, somewhere far away, watching me like I’m onstage. So forgive me if I come off a little uneasy…. I’m uneasy with anything that might perceive me. Keep your eyes closed. Parts of my soul your vision cannot own.”

The Seduction of Kansas is a potent political push-back against conservatism until the very end. The second-last track, “Interlude: I Dream This Dream in Which My Body Is My Own…,” is a spoken-word piece about the necessity of having sovereignty over one’s own body and thoughts. And finally, “Texas Instruments” indicts colonialism, using the founding of Texas as an example. “Give us the sound, and give us the silence,” Greer sings with the hubris of settlers who feel entitled to everything.

When Dorothy clicked her ruby heels together and repeated to herself, “There’s no place like home,” Kansas forever came to symbolize the “real” world. But as Priests show on The Seduction of Kansas, under current politics, the real world is not a desirable place to be. But Priests will rally and rage until they can feel at home, in the real world.

review by Leslie Chu