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Nothing Feels Natural is the first full-length by Washington, D.C.'s Priests.
Recorded in the fall of 2016, the record is the culmination of two years' writing, touring, tweaking, and refining. Throughout that time the band has carved out an existence on its own terms,performing mostly all-ages shows booked via a network of like-minded artists both within and outside punk communities.
The album represents a major step forward for Priests. It's the bands most stylistically diverse set of songs to date, expanding on their lo-fi post-punk bona-fides with ideas drawn from pop, R&B, and industrial noise. Thematically, Nothing can be understood as a series of vignettes -- nine stories that crystallize into a bigger picture about the economics of human relationships, the invisibility of feminized labor, and the dual purpose of art for both the group and the individual.
The album will be the first full-length LP released on Sister Polygon Records, the label that Priests founded and operate.
Priests are Daniele Daniele (drums), Katie Alice Greer (vocals), G.L. Jaguar (guitar), and Taylor Mulitz (bass). Formed in 2011, the band has proven a valuable force for strangeness in a city that is increasingly terraformed by norms. At a time when few groups were making serious moves beyond the Beltway, Priests toured throughout North America and Europe. More significantly, they've helped to raise the general standard of show-going at home through cassettes and singles released on Sister Polygon, including music by bands like Sneaks, Snail Mail, Pinkwash, Cigarette, Downtown Boys, and numerous Priests-affiliated groups like Gauche and Flasher. Still, even amidst thriving hometown creativity, Priests possess a singular gravity. They are physical and combustible, urgent and visceral.
Following the release of Bodies and Control and Money and Power, Priests began to tweak their songwriting process - concentrating more deeply on melody, dialing down the distortion, and experimenting with dynamics. New songs evolved in performance, starting off tentative and gaining confidence and character on tour. The band recorded and scrapped versions of Nothing Feels Natural for almost a year before enlisting Hugh McElroy (Black Eyes) and Kevin Erickson, who worked with Priests previously on Tape Two, their Radiation/Personal Planes single, and half of Bodies. Nothing Feels Natural was tracked throughout summer of 2016 at Inner Ear Studios in Arlington, VA.
The result is by turns moody and explosive. "Appropriate" is a nod to Priests' earliest incarnations - loud and corrosive, chaotic and improvisatory. "JJ" is streamlined and melodic, pitting barroom piano against warped guitar and bass tones. On "No Big Bang" Daniele takes up the mic, programming a Roland TR-707 to hold down an unflagging pulse. The album's title track and centerpiece "Nothing Feels Natural" builds slowly, with shimmering guitars eventually giving way to feedback and billowing reverb. Lyrically, Priests songs present contradiction. They are often delivered first person but under pretense that "you are not you". Nothing Feels Natural centers the experiences of women but still asks us to "consider the options of a binary".
In these songs, innocuous moments often drive major ideological scene shifts. A cruel joke jostles the power structure of a love triangle. A PR sales-pitch is called out as identity theft. A list of aspirational consumer luxuries are chanted into a twisted emptiness. It's a record that thrives amid the tension between that what is valued and what is dismissed; between what is desired and what is presented.
Nothing Feels Natural is out January 27th on Sister Polygon Records.
Hand Grenade Job (HGJ) is an experimental post-americana duo from Washington, DC. Both women are vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, with Beck Levy (Turboslut, The Gift) primarily playing guitar and Erin McCarley (Delta Dart, Pygmy Lush, Governess) primarily on percussion. Levy and McCarley both come from DIY punk scenes. Their previous bands were loud. HGJ explores a different mode of heaviness. As a band, they are directed by the values of minimalism, agility, and confrontation. Their live performances include elements of visual and performance art, with a constructed habitat that evolves from show to show.
HGJ's first full length, "Devotionals," was recorded in a cabin in western Maryland between two blizzards. Recorded by Kyle Gilbride of Wherever Audio (Girlpool, Radiator Hospital), the album evokes the setting in which it was created. Some songs are sparse, utilizing only vocals. Others are expansive, employing guitar, accordion, autoharp, cello, marimba, timpani, and field recordings. A haunting, ethereal undercurrent runs throughout. Negative space takes on its own formidable character. Immediately after recording, Levy took up an unconventional artist's residency at the National Institutes of Health, where for 7 months she participated in research on the psychological effects of Ketamine. "Devotionals" is an album bookended by snowstorms and psychedelics—and it sounds like one, too.
This October, HGJ will be performing new original compositions as accompaniment to a production of "An Iliad" at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop. In November, HGJ will perform at the Smithsonian American Art Museum as part of the Luce Unplugged Series. From October 2016 through January 2017, Levy and McCarley will be performing in Ragnar Kjartansson's performance art installation "Woman in E" at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Levy and McCarley, long mutual fans of each other's bands, formed HGJ in 2012. Their sound grew out of necessity, with early practices taking place at low volume during McCarley's children's naptime. In the same basement where HGJ practices, McCarley screenprints subversive children's apparel. Levy is also a printmaker, using letterpress to self-publish art and writing. HGJ has released a self-titled cassette tape, a digital EP, and a digital single. They have toured throughout the East Coast—particularly the Mid-Atlantic region—and New Orleans. HGJ is looking forward to touring extensively in 2017.
"D.C. duo Hand Grenade Job dabbles in minimalist fare...through delicate—and sometimes haunting—harmonies, Beck Levy and Erin McCarley compose sparse, eerie devotionals that possess an almost otherworldly quality."
Matt Cohen, Washington City Paper, August 16, 2016
"Beck Levy [of Hand Grenade Job] is responsible for a lot of underpinnings in the framework of modern-day DIY/underground culture happening in the USA right now."
Katie Alice Greer, The Media, January 24, 2014
"Hand Grenade Job makes me feel like I died and they died earlier and they are helping me deal with my new death."
Michael Cantor, The Goodbye Party, July 2015
"This band is more than a band – they are a living, breathing collaboration and relationship made public. They are a multi-media experience. They are a break for a weary heart and soul. They are sonic salve."
Katy Otto, Impose Magazine, June 8, 2016
"HGJ have been classified as experimental or post-punk, but pre-punk seems more accurate, or better yet, pagan—there’s a healthy dose of the occult in their sets...Most of HGJ’s songs are performed with acoustic percussion, droning guitars, or sounds that feel like they come from a blighted dollhouse. They sing together, with vocals so entwined and harmonized it forms a single, towering, overpowering wave."
Dan Fox, Antigravity Magazine, March 2013 with Hand Grenade Job