In 1993, a certain Steve Albini pulled the strings behind the scenes on In Utero, Nirvana’s immortal final act. Fast forward a couple of decades and his very own protégé has masterminded a record that makes her band one of 2015’s essential US exports. A one-time intern to Albini, singer and all-round spearhead Alicia Bognanno has not just taken Bully’s debut by the scruff of the neck with her distinctive raspy vocals; she’s also produced the whole darn thing. Needless to say, the rapidly rising Nashville quartet have reaped the rewards of being in that amount of control.
Bully may have grunge coursing through their veins, but Feels Like packs just as much pop appeal as it does angst-ridden attitude. No more finely struck is this balance than on ‘Milkman’, a true gem from the Bully early days that comes reworked and reloaded for the album. Winding the innocence of lyrics like “I could be a milkman / What a good milkman I would be” through a maze of scratchy and haphazard guitars and pummelling drums, Bognanno owns this one with her inimitable swagger.
‘Milkman’ isn’t the only relative oldie of Bully’s to have made it to Feels Like; three of the remaining four tracks from 2014’s self-titled EP are included. That said, with the exception of any existing super-fans of the band out there, ‘Brainfreeze’, ‘Bully’ (yep, really) and ‘Sharktooth’ will be just as gratifying discoveries as the rest of the record. The first is perhaps the pick of the bunch, with its nonchalantly delivered yet biting chorus, and its infectious, pop-punk influenced riffs. The latter two, on the other hand, see Bully drop down into slow-mo which, if anything, only serves to amplify the angst.
That angst peaks on lead single ‘Trying’. Don’t let the summery guitars and tranquil vocals at the outset of this one fool you; it’s a real bruiser. Enter the chorus and the both those elements explode into life as Bognanno wrestles with the demons inside in her head: “Trying to hide from my mind / I am / Trying all the time”. Her ability to transition so seamlessly between the two key contrasting musical factions of Bully’s sound is breathtaking, and something which is a cornerstone of the album as a whole.
From its rip-roaring, rambunctious, over in a flash first track, ‘I Remember’, to the slow-burning snarl of ‘Sharktooth’ at the very last, and every bracing moment in between, Feels Like leaves no questions unanswered about Bully – it’s obvious who they are and what they do. They’ve found their niche and they thrive within it, but such are the quantities of irresistibly sweet pop coating on their refreshing brand of neo-grunge, Bully won’t have to worry for one moment that they’re in any danger of becoming pigeonholed. This is a record to be savoured by all.
Buy: Bully – Feels Like