Priests - Early Recordings

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2017-04-22

Washington D.C.’s Priests have gifted their fans with a new collection of (mostly) previously unreleased material made specifically for Record Store Day, Early Recordings. Like everything Priests have done to date, Early Recordings is an incredible collection of tracks. The difference between Priests’ most recent offering, the polished and very much on-point, Nothing Feels Natural, and Early Recordings is the evolution on display. Early Recordings showcases a band en route to making their first great record. It also wears its influences on its sleeve and leaves listeners craving more. Imagine a prequel that actually enhances the original… Early Recordings is that record.

The album’s opener, the abrasive, anti-corporate “Diet Coke” is a fuzzed-out rocker reminiscent of the best 90’s Riot grrrl acts. Priests’ frontwoman, Katie Alice Greer, shouts over the noise the names of various corporate giants culminating in the chant “I’ll sell you a Diet Coke”. Though “Diet Coke” is a typical under-produced punk track, the album’s tone completely changes with track two. “Talking” starts out with a post-punk drone like early Interpol which transitions into something akin to something you might hear on a Hop Along album. The influences continue throughout Early Recordings: “Leave Me Alone” (Joy Division), “USA” (Slint), “Lillian Hellman” (Fugazi) and Twelve (Sonic Youth). This isn’t to say Priests don’t have an original sound because they certainly do. The point in noting these influences is that, for all of their political bluster, Priests have the savage chops necessary to match their hardcore message.

Another great element of Early Recordings is the evolution of both the band’s sound – which initially suggests they chose to record in a poorly miked bus depot – as well as Katie Alice Greer’s vocals. The fuzziness of “Diet Coke” is cute but, had that been the ongoing production style, Early Recordings would be a mess. To the band’s credit by the time track ten wraps-up, they’ve gone from cute to deserving of a legit Sonic Youth comparison. The fits and starts of their early songs are smoothed-out over the course of the album into a layered, nuanced cohesion. Priests have clearly learned how to play with and off one another and refined their edge in the process. Similarly, Katie Alice Greer starts out somewhat shrill (vocally-speaking) screaming and shouting and resisting actual singing. She eventually adapts some of the controlled vulnerability of PJ Harvey on “Lillian Hellman”. This isn’t to say she’s seeking goodwill or attempting to moderate herself (doubters need only hear the caustic “USA”) but simply that her range is expanding and evolving alongside her bandmates.

Early Recordings should not be treated as a Record Store Day one-off. Instead, this record should be seen for what it is, a sign of what’s to come. If these songs culminated in the amazing Nothing Feels Natural, whatever comes next will be even better. Priests’ Early Recordings is worth more than a cursory listen. Just because these songs are older doesn’t mean they’re any less important, less fresh or less relevant.

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