By Cameron Grieves
“Nothing Feels Natural” is perhaps the most aptly named debut release of any major punk band in quite some time.
Priests, the D.C. punk four-piece responsible for the ten-song album released in late January, eschewed much of the founding principles of their sound in order to elevate their critique of social and political norms to a darker stage.
Unlike their 2015 EP, “Bodies and Control and Money and Power,” their LP debut practically bursts at the seams with genre-bending melodic fusion and instrumental orientation sharply divergent from punk norms.
Qualities of freejazz instrumentation are notable from the opening song, “Appropriate,” which builds and crashes basslines and drum beats with frantic and unraveling energy. This confused and undulating melody present throughout the album is complemented by Katie Alice Greer’s powerfully emotive vocals.
On the catchy surf-rock-esque single, “JJ,” Greer abruptly infuses the opening lines with the dark lyrical elements that run through the album.
“When I met you, you were just a bad attitude / You dated a model, one time she stuck her finger in a light socket / About things like that people were always so mean and rude but I always felt like, ‘Oh Veronika, baby, I think I know what you mean,’” Greer sings.
Such a casual mention of suicide seems like an odd way to begin one of the catchiest singles on the album, but the first half of “Nothing Feels Natural” is indeed rife with this sort of anxiety and personal introspection – a realignment of the artist’s relationship with established social norms.
“Whoever deserves anything anyway? What a stupid concept,” poses Greer at the end of the song, a loaded question that both affirms the listener’s expectations of Priests’ nihilism while also reinforcing their anti-establishment political message.
The social criticism continues to progress through a decidedly feminist lens on “Nicki” and “Lelia 20” - both songs that utilize dark reverberating bass and tight, spastic drums that build a confused melodic progression against twangy surf ribs.
“Got more appetite than a bear or a forest full of mouths to feed / So save your paltry dowry / I’m gonna buy you before you buy me,” Greer sings on “Nicki.” The naturalistic imagery invokes a primal undoing of expected gender binaries and a militant refusal to accept the societal expectations of women.
“No Big Bang” is a long, dark and nihilistic spoken-word poem interspersed with a haunting choral chant – “No (words, crash, birth), no big bang, no big bang, no big bang.” The classical interlude that follows this disorganized disintegration accentuates the shift from the anxiety and introspection in the first half of the album to the actively engaged social anger that pervades songs like “Pink White House” and “Pub” in the second half.
Hauntingly long and deeply emotive vocals contrast short simplistic melodies on “Pink White House” while actively giving force to the repetitive lyrical elements.
Greer sneers at the political and social establishment in banner-waving protest fashion that recalls punk’s ideologically leftist past.
“A puppet show in which you’re made to feel like you participate / Sign a letter, throw your shoe, vote for numbers 1 or 2 / Consider the options of a binary,” Greer belts out as the song shifts to an irreverent parody of American consumerism and pop-culture in the second half.
“Come on sitcom, come on streaming, come on nostalgia, nineties TV / Oooh baby my American dream oooh baby my American dream,” Greer sings sarcastically.
The ending chorus, “Anything you want, anyone you want, anywhere you want, anyway anyway,” reinforces the societal decadence that Priests seek to mock and undermine.
The last song on the album, “Suck,” is also the strangest by comparison, as it doesn’t synchronize lyrically or sonically with the majority of the preceding songs – taking on a more pop-oriented approach with a jarring brass addition.
A better ending song would have been “JJ” or “Pink White House,” the respective ending lines of which highlight the conflicting societal ideals that Priests so masterfully deconstruct and critique.