The first time I listened to Nothing Feels Natural, I was doing three of the least punk things imaginable: making tea, wearing a cardigan, and having a conversation with my cat. The tea was chamomile, the cardigan was lavender, and the cat was purring. You might say, Taylor, wouldn’t Teaser and the Firecat have been a more fitting album choice for such a mellow set of activities? To that I have two responses: First, it’s not like I had slippers on or anything, so give me a little more credit than that; and second, sometimes you don’t listen to music that fits the mood you are in. Sometimes, just sometimes, you listen to the music that fits the mood that you want to have. This album made me forget about the boiling kettle and the cat trying to tangle itself up in my feet. It made me forget how cold the tile was on my toes, and how I wished the sleeves of my cardigan were just a little bit longer. It took me out of a serenity that was on the verge of complacency. Then, it made me ready to care about something again. Punk isn’t just about being angry at the world. It’s about caring enough to say something. That’s what Priests do here.
The album kicks off with a storm of drums that lasts the entirety of the first track, “Appropriate.” This sound is a callback to all of Priests’ earlier work. It shouts, clashes, and climaxes. It asks, “You want some new brutalism?” with its very first line, and then delivers it. Singer Katie Alice Green shows right away that her voice has unyielding power, and so do the band mates who accompany her: Taylor Mulitz on bass, G.L. Jaguar on guitar, and Daniele Daniele on drums. Instrumentally, that “new brutalism” changes from there. For the rest of the album, melody takes over, but doesn’t sacrifice that power. Track two, “Jj,” has the running bass line and repeating guitar lick of a Californian surfer tune. The pounding piano is new and entirely welcome; it keeps the track from getting too heavy for itself. “Nicki” is full of symbols, but they don’t drown out the wailing vocal. “Keep your copper, keep your pearls / I’m the stubbornest girl in the world / You’ll never drive a harder bargain than me.” It’s dark and entirely feminist. “Save your paltry dowry / I’m gonna buy you before you buy me.” “Lelia 20” is all bass runs and hot desert sun beams. It’s hazy. This track experiments a bit with electronic interference, both quick on the buildup and drawn out on the exit. It lives on the high hat. But its most exciting sound is the pluck and pull of strings. I can only hope Priests builds on the orchestral inclusion in future work; the hum of cellos here works with the band’s sound. “No Big Bang” is the album’s biggest track. The drums and bass are steady under Green’s ever-present spoken word performance. The guitar is all distortion, but it’s only there when it needs to be. It’s full of layers—vocals on vocals, and three guitars at once. It’s the kind of piece you want to learn every word of. “Interlude,” the one-minute-seventeen-second song in the middle of the album, brings back the cello. It adds violins until you can’t distinguish one instrument from another, and tricks your ears into thinking there are more than just strings on the track. It’s got the peace of a spring garden, but the depth of a pastoral elegy. “Nothing Feels Natural” continues the air of serenity with acoustic guitar and vocal harmony. A drumroll halfway through takes the rock-level up a notch, but the song sets the tone for the album’s B-side. “Pink White House” is the ultimate American commentary. I wish I’d been there on Inauguration Day when the band played this at their concert, No Thanks: A Night of Anti-Fascist Sound. “Suck” has the album’s best bass line. That, combined with the quick chanking guitar injection ends the mix with straight funk. It’s got bongos, and a saxophone solo. That’s the way you close out an album.
It’s hard to believe that this is Priests’ first LP. The band has been together and active since 2012, when they first formed in Washington, DC. They’ve released four EPs before this year, with twenty tracks total. Their sound has changed since even their last release, Bodies and Control and Money and Power from 2014. Now, the tracks are more refined. There’s less feedback, fewer vocal screams, and not as many crashing symbols. This is a punk group located in America’s capital. Its members are activists for the left both on and off stage there, and they have a lot to be angry about. But, rather than drowning Nothing Feels Natural in that anger with screeching noise, like they’ve done with previous EPs, they let the lyrics carry a lot of the emotional weight: “All of the sudden, all of the science and evolution and progress, I mean sure, it looks good from a distance, but when you’re really inside of it you realize it’s fucking terrifying,” is the spoken word of “No Big Bang.” “Kneel at the feet of programming, I’m really not concerned what you think / You are just a cog in the machine and I am a wet dream soft and mean,” they interrogate the American dream in “Pink White House.” Each word on this album is clear and comprehendible. Priests have embraced a new punk ideology that says you don’t need to be the loudest one in the room to have your voice heard. They’ve found the perfect balance of distortion and clarity in every instrument. This album is still mad, and still has things to say, but it’s not throwing chairs through windows to get the point across.