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Album Review: Feels Like - Bully

Nashville indie-rock quartet Bully’s more-than-meets-the-eye debut LP, Feels Like, is so laden with subtext, so referential and pastiche, yet such a goddamn album of and for the times that it feels like any review is more musical retrospective of the past 25 years than a subjective appraisal of a piece of art. Suffice to say, at this early stage, that this is a worthy debut for many reasons more than lead singer Alicia Bognanno’s lascivious, simultaneously wounded and dangerous battle-cries.

The common referential point for both Bognanno’s attitude and her voice is one particularly influential couple of the 90’s alternative revolution (they usually are, when it comes to 90’s styles and sounds). Yes, Bognanno’s howls and rages at the travails of early adulthood are straight from the Kurt Cobain canon; yet it’s the late Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, who Bognanno truly channels in emotive content and oppositional (I daren’t say bratty) stance. Another band I instantly thought of on first listen to Feels Like was No Doubt. Oh, Bully aren’t that radio friendly- gone are the electronic, kitschy effects and transitions and the guitars have gone the six-blade Schick, over the instant razor, the result being a deliciously dirty fuzz. But, insofar as Bully continues the 90’s revivalism that has so captured the zeitgeist of 2015, it is more in the capacity of an ideological affinity to the foundational ideas of the alternative era.

Case in point, from ‘Trying’: “That kinkied up, invisible handcuffs locked on me / Been praying for my period all week / And relief that I just can't see.” In the early 90’s, during the height of riot grrrl period, all-girl bands with lyrics such as these would be considered the lowest of the underground feminist movement: in 2015, while still not necessarily passe, it’s a much more mainstream discourse. Musically, there are many females to thank for this: not least Kathleen Hanna, such an integral part of riot grrrl; or Bjork, for her outspoken views of females in the music industry; and, at in a much more visceral and sexual sense, Sky Ferreira. However, irrespective of lyrical and musical content, to even have a banshee of a rock howler like Alicia Bognanno leading your band is something of an empowering act in itself, considering the well documented disparity between male- and female-led bands.

It’s a mark of a very good record that you’re able to get bogged down in the contextual details without even getting to the music. Bully have, above everything else, released a very good collection of jagged pop-punk, where many of the statements are made instrumentally and not in the studio. While nodding to 90’s alt rock (see: Wolf Alice, Speedy Ortiz, etc.), it is the flinty, caffeinated punk beats that steer the record overall. Not a song crosses the four minute mark, which is probably a good thing, as Bully’s pulsing intensity doesn’t quite translate into longer cuts yet (maybe they should ask Cloud Nothings’ Dylan Baldi for a few tips). The loud-quiet-loud dynamic of “Trash” is awkward, as it is one of the few instances where Bognanno’s bombast is too far at odds with Bully’s rhythm section. Really, though, there’s little to fault the album on. A backhanded compliment is that ‘Sharktooth’ is a much better tune than a bonus track deserves. It’s a wonderful way to conclude an album whose best cuts are largely over by the halfway mark: the rhythmic, pouting “Too Tough”; the hedonistic fun of “Brainfreeze”; and the sugary sweetness of “Trying.” 8/10

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