Before discussing its follow-up, it’s important to look back at Priests’ debut album, 2017’s Nothing Feels Natural. Its ten songs held a post-punk tension and downtrodden introspection, even in their bid for empowerment, presented as a cohesive but diverse whole. But fans of that album should be prepared for some changes in the band’s approach. Where once their sound touched the various corners of post-punk, they’ve cleaned up some of their noise and agitation to deliver something that sounds more new wave. The Seduction of Kansas is still a punk album—in the same way that an album like Blondie’s Parallel Lines is punk.
The overall production of The Seduction of Kansas, which was recorded with John Congleton (Baroness, St. Vincent), is slicker, more polished. The midrange is pretty overpowering, so it’s a welcome change when the bass begins to fill some of the gaps on “YouTube Sartre” while the guitar goes off into rubbery weirdness. The subdued sound of the basslines keeps the groove from being as slinky as it should be, though with tracks like “I’m Clean” the songwriting is so strong that it’s not an issue. There are times when the band’s energy level is more highly charged, but not in an overtly abrasive way. Still, it’s satisfying to hear Priests get a little more aggressive on “Good Time Charlie.”
Not every idea quite works; “68 Screen” doesn’t feel fully fleshed out, for instance. But tracks like that one are the outliers; they pull off a lush and dreamy guitar tone for the moodier digital bonus track “Not Perceived,” which is also the most lyrically interesting song on the album, concerning ideas of perception and perspective (“I’m uneasy about anything that might perceive me/ Keep your eyes closed, parts of my soul your vision cannot go”). The production of songs like “Control Freak” and “Carol” keeps Priests from harnessing the punk energy and rowdiness of a song like “Puff,” though the strength of songwriting is a fair trade-off. Meanwhile, there is more of a Sonic Youth-style noise rock influence to “Texas Instruments,” with a more overtly lyrical angle detailing the political history of the titular state.
The Seduction of Kansas is a highly enjoyable album with some strong songs, though the biggest takeaway is that Katie Greer’s voice sounds stronger than ever. There are more colors and shades to her delivery, which is well suited to the aesthetic of the album. The album might take a little getting used to after the punchy debut of Nothing Feels Natural. But they their approach to disco-punk and new wave is a successful one, and contrasting the intensity of their previous album, makes for something more accessible and inarguably more pop.