Bodies and Control and Money and Power is the laundry list of a title that introduces the debut album from Washington, D.C., punk band Priests. Each capitalized letter is outlined in white atop a rage-red album cover, and the lyrics of vocalist Katie Alice Greer deliver the promised goods with fiery invective. Identity politics, the government's monopoly on violence, and dwindling privacy figure prominently in Greer's words, all dispatched by a band based in the seat of federal power. D.C. leader of lefty politico rock 'n' roll Ian Svenonius deals similar rhetoric via transcripts of faux-séances and generally oblique agitations, but Priests' protests are more straightforward. Bodies and Control and Money and Power runs less than 18 minutes, leaving little room for vagueness, and each abrupt track suggests a band honed live on stage.
My memory of Priests' performance at CMJ last year includes a whirlwind of leopard print, Greer mocking the heavy sponsorship presence at 285 Kent, and the impression afterward that my festival experience had just crested. Hearing Priests' new album is like reaching the other side of a needed tumult. Greer's husky delivery is a flash flood with devastation in its wake, while wily guitar riffs sputter over punchy backbeats before expiring. It's all very tough and assaultive, but, like a Komodo dragon bite, the venom lingers, agitating listeners long after the attack. Priests perform on Thursday, June 19, at Hemlock Tavern with the formidable Oakland trio Baus.
Greg Ashley conducts himself like a proper working musician. He isn't precious about gigs. Sometimes Ashley plays multiple sets a night at the sort of bars that don't pretend to be venues. He also headlines at clubs, though he still chooses to sit and play acoustic guitar with a rotating cast of collaborators seemingly chosen from whoever is around. Sometimes Ashley calmly clarifies a song arrangement on stage with the group, then they nail it. I recently walked by a clothing boutique and heard an unmistakable refrain lilting its way across the sidewalk, a parklet, and out into the bicycle-saturated street: "You make me feel like shit/I want to kill myself." It was Ashley, mid-misery ballad one afternoon, singing with a glass of red wine by his side.
Ashley is usually introduced as a founder of the venerable Gris Gris, but his solo output now warrants dropping mentions of his old band. He boasts four solo albums of original material. The latest, Another Generation of Slaves, out earlier this year (which features "Awkward Affections," quoted above) distills dejected songcraft and folded lyricism to their utmost potency. Meanwhile, his impeccable cover album of Leonard Cohen's Death of a Ladies Man was reissued last year. The album cover sets Ashley between two mannequins in a booth, like the original image of Cohen flanked by two women. The image befits the fact that Ashley's music is rooted in the past – but his plastic company suggests that he'll outlast us all. Ashley plays The Knockout on Tuesday, June 24.