Release Date: Jun 23, 2015
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
There are some records that color inside all the lines and yet the resultant rainbow found inside them is something of completely singular value. Bully’s Feels Like plays according to all the rules of fuzzy ‘90s indie rock and doesn’t even really try to rewrite them. Still, the way they kaleidoscopically color within the basic outline of that time and style proves their personality alone is enough to turn them into a band worth watching for a while to come.
For Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, songwriting is much more than just a purgative exercise. Her music is a perfect scrim, allowing her to bleach her most intimate insecurities and volatile chapters in such a manner that, when blared over her band’s punchy, fuzzed-out guitars and chummy basslines, results in a pageant of assured tenacity and pronounced poise. Feels Like has been a debut LP eagerly anticipated by anyone who has wrapped his or her ears around any of Bully’s previous releases, and a couple of tracks from the finished article will not be new to fans of the band.
Most internships tend to cover the same boring, laborious tasks: file some papers, put some numbers in a spreadsheet, try remember everyone’s tea preferences when suddenly everyone wants one because the intern offered. Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno struck it lucky, however. Though she no doubt had to do some of those things it probably wasn’t too bad because, for starters, she was doing them for legendary sound engineer Steve Albini, whose list of credits includes a ridiculous variety from Jarvis Cocker to Pixies and, of course, Nirvana.
If there is one aspect of Bully's breathless, hyperactive sound that befits their moniker on Feels Like, it is Alicia Bognanno's gloriously ragged power-tool of a voice—shrieking and rasping from amongst the dark corners and feedback of the record to force your ears against the lyrics in a way that the most compelling singers always do. Behind her, the band concoct a colourful amalgam of surf-rock, grunge, and fuzzed-up stoner rock that in lesser hands, could end up a tired retreading into the footfalls of the alternative '90s, but the deft sense of control they display here lets these influences emerge as fresh and vibrant as a redecoration of a well-known room. They know when to kick the door down (the stunning opener "I Remember") but they also know when to open it ominously and slowly ("Too Tough").
Birthed from the grimy Nashville scene that birthed similar retro-gazing scuzz-pop acts Diarrhea Planet and Jeff the Brotherhood, Alicia Bognanno was a former intern at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studios, and she was born the year between Doolittle and Nevermind. By that count, her path seems predestined. But the Bully singer/guitarist says that any resemblance her band bears to the tattered-flannel rock that ruled the early ’90s was subconscious at most.
In the glut of '90s alt-rock revivalists, Nashville's Bully have a clear advantage over their peers, a secret weapon: Alicia Bognanno. As the band's singer, songwriter, guitarist, engineer and producer, Bognanno has overseen every aspect of her band's music perfectly.On the surface, their debut album, Feels Like, doesn't sound like some expertly crafted studio album. Instead, the album's 11 fuzz pedal-abused tracks is an elating recall of the greatest hits of ancestors like Nirvana, Hole and the Amps from 20 years prior.
To any plaid shirt-clad, Kim Deal-obsessed analogue recording nerd, the career of Alicia Bognanno is the stuff of fantasy. The seeds of the 25-year-old’s gnarly Nashville grunge-pop band Bully were sewn during an internship at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. There, after work, she got to put the skills she picked up from her audio production degree into practice using the ‘In Utero’ producer’s hallowed reel-to-reel setup.As a mentor, Albini’s hard to beat, having been at the centre of US alt-rock since his days with noise punks Big Black in the ’80s.
Alicia Bognanno's coarse Cobain head-scream is its own resuscitating jolt of protest. It liberates Bully's songwriter, singer, and guitarist from the oppressive weight she carries on the Nashville band’s debut album, Feels Like: Worn down by lying jackasses, locked in the "invisible handcuffs" of patriarchal expectation, eroded by the male gaze, her feelings discarded like garbage. Compounding all the external fuckery is a black hole of self-doubt and self-deceit that she’s trying to break through.
Alicia Bognanno’s band, Bully, is curiously named. The Nashville outfit trades in quick punches fueled by fuzzy guitar, fast drums, and raw emotion, but they have little intent to hurt. They’d rather you dance one moment and headbang the next, singing along throughout. The latter half of that equation is easier thanks to Bognanno’s lyrics that lay bare anxiety, apathy, and everything in between.
It’s no coincidence that Bully take after so many different aspects of 1990s alternative rock, the genre’s fruitful, disparate period when bands danced around the underground and the mainstream, indie labels and majors, experimentalism, and traditional musical values. Rock, moved away from 1980s hair metal and new wave by grunge, indie rock, pop punk and post-rock, had once again finally met a new era of spontaneous, varied artistic deviance at the hands of disillusioned teenagers. Attitude, to a high degree, determined a band’s primary approach: Nirvana, Weezer and Pavement, to name a few, are remembered as much for their unique, distinctive demeanors as anything else.
Alicia Bognanno is an ace at angst-y confessionals — you can't get much more hardcore than the way she spits out lines like "Invisible handcuffs locked on me/Been praying for my period all week." She brings a focused vision to her band's debut, which she wrote, produced and engineered herself. Like Chastity Belt or Colleen Green, Bully hot-wire the roar of 1994 pop punk — they sound like two key influences might be both Veruca and Salt. Most of all, you hear Courtney Love in Bognanno's bruised grunge howl.
BullyFeels Like(Star Time/Columbia)Rating: 3 out of 5 stars For anyone who spent the majority of their youth getting a healthy headphone injection of angst and grunge in the 1990s, Bully’s debut album Feels Like should provide a certain, highly specific sort of comfort. It’s loaded with big guitars, big hooks, and the sort of perfectly manicured imperfection that permeated alternative rock records between the releases of Nirvana’s Nevermind and Hole’s Celebrity Skin. It’s not grunge – not exactly – but it’s doubtful anyone would even blink after hearing standout single “Trying” between similarly raw and anthemic tracks by The Breeders or Smashing Pumpkins.
What year is it in the alternate universe where Bully lives? The group's debut album, Feels Like, may have been released in 2015, but danged if it doesn't sound exactly like it was created sometime during the late-'80s to mid-'90s window when indie rock went from an underground phenomenon to every twenty-something's birthright. In particular, Feels Like recalls the scruffy guitars, polarized dynamics, and smart-gal anger of early PJ Harvey and Pod-era Breeders, with any number of grunge acts informing the sloppy but fiercely purposeful velocity of the music, and the closing cut "Bully" even sounds like a tribute to Jennifer Trynin's indie-ish semi-hit "Better Than Nothing," right down to its blasé but provocative opening line. Vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Alicia Bognanno sings with a mixture of confessional whisper and primal howl that demonstrates she's learned well from her influences, and her bandmates -- Clayton Parker on guitar, Reece Lazarus on bass, and Stewart Copeland (not the guy from the Police) on drums -- sound at once bare-boned and full-bodied as they keep the arrangements simple but execute them with the requisite amount of muscle and distortion.
Alicia Bognanno has a gift for crafting a phrase that captures the ear: “Been praying for my period all week,” she sings on Trying; “I remember getting too fucked up / And I remember throwing up in your car,” offers I Remember. Would that the rest of the group had a gift for melodies as memorable: the Nashville band’s debut is a grab-bag of early-90s alt-rock styles that sounded tired by the mid-90s – and haven’t got any fresher since. I Remember is a bit punky; Too Tough is a bit slacker; Trying is a bit loud-quiet-loud, which would be fine if they had the songcraft of Superchunk or Breeders or Pixies or Sebadoh or Pavement, but they don’t.
In late 2014, Nashville's Bully hurricaned into the hype machine thanks to a furious self-titled EP that stood out for its raging grunge-inspired thrash but also for frontwoman Alicia Bognanno's studio prowess. This follow-up delivers on that early promise, and Bognanno's old-school analog approach serves the album's 90s spirit well. (She co-engineered and mixed Feels Like with mentor Steve Albini at his Chicago studio.) .
“Trash,” a glorious new song by Bully, is a mess of empowered exhaustion. “I wonder if you’ve ever felt this confused/It’s magic how/You make me feel like trash,” Alicia Bognanno sings, defeated but cool. Behind her, the bass is wobbly and dusty, the guitar pierces through lazily, the drums are confidently modest. Toward the end of the song, Ms.
Though it’s easy to forget, there was a moment in the mid-’90s when Hole was a well-respected alt-rock band. Live Through This was pop-rock with a punk perspective, but despite its commercial success, its influence has largely lain dormant, due, in part, to Courtney Love’s more tabloid-worthy exploits that followed. In many ways, Nashville’s Bully picks up that torch and runs with it, making Feels Like an apt successor to a great band that’s had some of its luster stripped.