Priory, Priory

Priory, Priory

With a name like “Priory,” you could be forgiven for assuming this Portland quartet plays gloomy Goth-metal, or maybe somber, glacial chillwave or something, but you’d be pretty damn distant from the truth. What the band plays, instead, is a variety of Pacific Northwest-bred indie-rock that drags the best elements of all its rain-drenched forebears into a cage and comes out beaten but grinning, fists held high.

There’s a heavy resemblance to a less-sleepy Say Hi here, for one thing, as on siren story-song “Lady of Late,” except that singer/guitarist Brandon Johnson slurs his lines a la Matt Sharp of The Rentals as he glides across a dense, multi-layered bed of folky guitars, click-clacking percussion, and murmuring keys. Then there’s “Alone,” which is folk-rock as done by The Arcade Fire, complete with soaring, hopeful high/low harmonies (courtesy of backup vocalist Kyle Dieker, who does the high falsetto parts) and a near-orchestral vibe, and I suspect the subtle roar of the elegaic “Cold Hands” points towards a crapload of time spent listening to Death Cab For Cutie.

Aiming even further northwards, the stutter-stop of “Wait” draws heavily from The New Pornographers both in terms of structure and in the band’s gleeful yelping throughout. And hell, they make it work awesomely for ’em, too, one-upping Carl Newman by marrying that shimmery-shiny power-pop sound to a heavier, more confrontational rock backbone.

The band excels like few I’ve heard at merging delicate, pretty electronics and synths (some of which are almost Self-esque and childlike) with more “basic” acoustic instruments; they make the two sides of the equation feel like they fit together naturally, organically, so that in “Searching,” when Priory shifts from somber, backwoodsy, Fleet Foxes-like jangle-folk guitars into an impassioned rave-up, it doesn’t feel a bit out-of-place.

Best of all, they imbue all of it with an energy and an almost desperate, sharp-edged vibe, as on tracks like “Kings of Troy,” the swaying “Red Sun,” or the out-and-out snarl of “Devil vs. Heater” (which I think deals with drug addiction, although I’m not entirely sure). A lot of stuff like this feels content to just float along prettily, but Priory jump up in your face and howl, right when you’re least expecting ’em to.

See the seemingly cheery “White Coats,” towards the end of the album — Priory starts out quietly smiling and reassuring, but as the instruments pile on top of one another in a giant heap and the lyrics repeat, end upon end, the music steadily becomes more paranoiac and unsettling, to the point where the patient to whom the song’s addressed is undoubtedly freaking the fuck out. And then everything suddenly drops away, and Johnson and Dieker offer with a manic, apologetic grin, “…and try to get some sleep,” right before they close the door tight. Nighty-night.

[Priory is playing 6/30/11 at Jet Lounge/ECHO, along with Melissa Savcic.]
(Expunged Records -- 920 SW Third Ste. 200, Portland, OR. 97204;; Priory --; Priory (Myspace) --
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, June 30th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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