Release Date: Oct 20, 2017
Record label: Sub Pop Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Rock Revival
We very nearly lost Bully's Alicia Bognanno to the other side of the mixing desk. Six years ago the ferocious guitarist and frontlady was interning as a sound engineer at Steve Albini's Chicago-based studio Electrical Audio. Yet she found herself irrepressibly drawn to a reel of tape set aside for the interns to record their own music. And thank God.
If Bully's gravelling debut 'Feels Like' was a roar of anger, follow-up, 'Losing' is the rage continuing; this time with an an exasperated howl. From the off, the opening track 'Feels The Same' - a title that nods back to the Nashville band's first album - mocks the mundanity of everyday life, and is audibly pissed off at a lack of progression. “I cut my hair, I feel the same," recites Alicia Bognanno atop fret-scaling grunge, "masturbate, "I feel the same." If a foreboding sense of dread tinged the air back in 2015, it's fair to say that things have gotten a whole lot more hellish since.
These comparisons were appropriate at the time - Feels Like was 31 restless minutes of explosive indie guitar-rock, with a timeless appeal boasting 90s' nostalgia and emotional self-revelations. But as time passed, Feels Like aged adequately, and each listen felt more refreshing than the last. Minute production details that were once unnoticed began to show - courtesy of Bognanno's tenure at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio studios in Chicago - and Feels Like became a vital document for heady 90s' indie-rock revivalists.
For all its earth tones, all its ripped jeans and flannel and grit, the Nineties grunge scene flew close to the surreal in its lyrics. Courtney Love divided herself into inanimate objects like a Hans Bellmer photo on Hole's "Doll Parts"; Mary Timony became a sickly plant on Helium's "Pat's Trick"; and Kurt Cobain went from building trees and planting houses to crawling back up into the womb by the umbilicus on Nirvana's "Breed" and "Heart-Shaped Box," respectively. It was a freaky time for rock--at least on the page.
As rock star origin stories go, Alicia Bognanno's may be the only one that begins like a LinkedIn testimonial. "If everybody worked as hard as Alicia then everybody's records would be Number One hits," her old boss Steve Albini said to NME in 2015, after she interned at his Electrical Audio studio. Bognanno eventually switched from working the soundboard to the vocal booth with the formidable band, Bully.
Losing is a record marked by loss within the life of Bully mastermind Alicia Bognanno, but it's not that loss, however multifaceted, that defines the record. Instead, it's how Bognanno processed that loss and let it inform both the music and lyrics that make up the Nashville rock band's second album, in two distinct ways. Lyrical, she takes the contemplative path some follow after loss that can offer some much-needed healing, while musically, the dynamic frontwoman drifts towards the hasty path, one that could lead to a misstep or an improvement, or even both as is the case with Losing.
On the release of their debut record, Feels Like, '90s alt-rock revivalists Bully appeared to be the band with the most authentic credentials. Their ostensibly unwavering commitment to the sound of that era was supported by the recording of their debut at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio (Bully's founding member Alicia Bognanno interned at the studio under the tutelage of Albini, and returned there to engineer Losing herself) as well as their recent signing to Sub Pop. However, while there was a great deal of praise for her songwriting, that admiration was sometimes footnoted by mild regret at a lack of unique character in their music.
Bully's first record, Feels Like, although fairly generic and narrow in its focus, got by on the strength of its conviction. Its touchstones (Sonic Youth, Sebadoh, Pixies, Breeders etc) were impeccably grafted together and, on songs like 'Too Tough' and 'Brainfreeze', the melodies were just distinct enough to suggest an identity. While that may sound like faint praise, the drudgery of the unwelcome avalanche of Nineties nostalgia meant the record stood out easily.