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.
The quartet’s debut album, Feels Like, is simultaneously youthful and weary, its bubblegum melodies punctured by Bognanno’s stark lyrics and abraded voice. “I remember my old habits/ I remember getting too fucked up/ And I remember throwing up in your car,” she yells on opener and first single “I Remember”, a transparent and formidable introduction to an album that will also deal with other physical representations of youth and its accompanying pains, like periods (“Trying”) and broken arms (“Six”).
Much of the sweetness on Feels Like comes from the re-recorded and rearranged tracks from the band’s self-titled 2014 EP. Bognanno, an ex-intern of Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio, produced and engineered Feels Like almost single-handedly, a fact thankfully not going unrecognized in an industry as likely to elide as celebrate women’s work behind the scenes. The re-recorded songs are looser and livelier: The springy guitar on “Brainfreeze” is pronounced and jaunty, and early standout “Milkman” gets sped up just a smidgen, as if the band were challenged to an impromptu race, frenetic guitars, tumbling drums, and all.
The older songs sit slightly uneasily alongside the newer material, which showcases a Bully less interested in straightforward hooks and more eager to twist the sounds of their grunge-inflected pop rock. They dabble with swirling, smeared guitars on “Reason” and let their Nirvana flag fly with “Trash”, the longest song on the record and the most frustrated. “This love feels like trash,” Bognanno declares repeatedly, the statement falling apart to its last three words and eventually giving way to her anguished howl. Her exhaustion and exasperation are palpable, but as long as she channels them into her music, it seems that Bognanno will be just fine in the end.
Essential Tracks: “I Remember”, “Trash”, and “Milkman”