Prayer Group are one of those bands who it is impossible to imagine playing an acoustic set. That’s a compliment. The Richmond noise rock quartet’s first two EP’s are good. Their newest, ‘Eudean‘, is four songs of boiling acid and is their best yet.
‘Eudean has a few moments of big rock and roll riffs you could nod your head or lift a beer to, and a lot more moments where the band, the bass and drums are either pummelling you fast or strutting slowly like a cocky boxer about to hit you again. Sometimes the guitar helps them, and sometimes it goes to pieces in a squall of reverb and feedback, sounding at once thin (like a razor, it’s a cutting sound) but also huge and out of control. It’s a guitar style with a kind of push and pull between the guitar as something a musician is playing and the guitar as a device that is almost malfunctioning and resisting being played. Meanwhile, the lead vocals are a mix of talk-singing, shout-singing, bellowing angrily, and occasional moments of sleazy rock-and-roll-guy singing, supported by a growly, furious and distressed sounding back up vocal.
In terms of comparisons, in both sound and the content, Prayer Group remind me most of Pissed Jeans, in a good way, but with maybe a bit less self-loathing and a bit more barely controlled violence. This is not an introspective sound. It’s a swaggering but frustrated sound: it smirks while it tries to butt into your conversation then loses its cool and shouts at you, because, well, you just had the bad luck to be in the vicinity when it boiled over.
It’s a sound full of rage, and yet clearly this band likes jokes. For instance, there’s the picture of a penis cut up and drawn on to look like a face on the cover of Eudean. There’s the name of their prior EP, titled ‘ICUP’, and there’s the name of their band, which they build into the further joke “Prayer Group Saves” on their Facebook page. They’re small, not particularly clever jokes. If you don’t think about them, they can seem just silly. But in their scatological content and in their mocking the sincerely held personal values and beliefs of religious people, the jokes start to seem antisocial. They become especially so if you repeat them (I love this kind of joke, personally).
These kind of jokes can work to avoid emotional contact, to keep people away, to ease social tension that you introduced by your own anti-social behavior. They can help you to fake a smile, or to smile sincerely because you’ve annoyed someone. I suspect these are not jokes made just for a laugh, but because you’re secretly very, very angry. The jokes aside, the anger of the music on this record is not at all secret. This record positively seethes, like a kid not allowed to join in with the other kids in a school activity, grinding their teeth and clenching their fists and staring, memorising the scene while beginning to write revenge fantasies.
Then again, maybe I have it backward: maybe the jokes mean that this isn’t sincere at all, or at least not meant to be taken at face value. There’s a conceit in a lot of punk songs that when vocalists sing “I” they mean themselves. There’s a fiction there of full emotional access and direct personal connection to another person, but Prayer Group’s songs seem more like character songs to me. (Christ, I hope so… Imagine actually living in this headspace!) And maybe it’s not just rage, but a fight or flight reflex kicking in. Consider this weird little vignette from the EP’s first song, ‘Landlord College’.
“You’re walking down the hall and you see, you see your own reflection, in a corner mirror, in the side bedroom, you take a second and you look into those eyes that you think are not your own. You think about how in that moment the dread, the anxiety and fear, you think about how if that were to last the entirety of your life time, you couldn’t stand to bear it.”
I think I’ve got the words right. My copy of Eudean didn’t come with the lyrics and Prayer Group are one of the only bands in human history to have the vocals mixed correctly, which is to say, low. That vignette is delivered in talk-singing that sounds like it’s going to becoming shouting at any second. The delivery plus the correctly low mixing of the vocals make it sound like someone’s internal monologue, like someone on the bus muttering to themselves about a nightmare they had – is this really directed at me or am I intruding? (Maybe the jokes are for the listener’s benefit, to induce some nervous laughter to help cope with the unsettling music. Or maybe Prayer Group are trying to get us to let our guard down so they can really fuck with us).
That weird vignette asks us to all at once think about one short strange moment and also about the entire duration of our lives, and the threat of not being able to face the rest of our lives. As that story is told there come shouts from the back up vocalist that sound like being angrily berated. The rest of the song gets weirder and more intense from there, the lead vocals becoming more and more shout-y while the back up vocals start to shriek and howl like he is really going to hurt someone, or maybe himself. It sounds just completely fucking furious.
There’s a part at the end of one of the songs where, after a little over three and a half minutes, the band hold the last chord, and there comes nearly another minute and a half of feedback and fuzz like a broken speaker, bleeding into the beginning of the next song. This music is deeply on edge. If you’re not on edge in 2019, you live in a cave, or maybe a mansion. So this is a sound for right now. Go get it.