The purity of rock and roll is up for debate these days, with the dilutive qualities of all the competing genres and crossovers wreaking havoc upon the merits of good ol’ fashioned rockin’. Everything is post-something or proto-whatever; nothing exists simply for the rock. It’s a predictable conclusion for a world obsessed dichotomously with both labels and originality. You gotta have a hook these days, if it’s relevancy you’re after. You’ve gotta be easily digestible and palatable to appease the status quo, while being just original enough to stand out if you want to hold the attention of the masses. After all, we’re a society whose collective attention span lasts about as long as the average YouTube video. If they’re not hooked by then, then you’re a complete non-starter.
Thankfully, Bully doesn’t appear to give a flying fuck about any of this. They’re a band who knows their business, and their business is rocking.
This Nashville quartet comes out of the gate strong with their debut record, Feels Like. They have no airs about them as they power through 11 tracks of rock and roll angst that’s full to the brim with piss and vinegar in ways that haven’t been heard since the early 90’s. Indeed, there are more than a few songs on this album that would feel right at home somewhere on the Hype! soundtrack.
There’s much to be said about frontwoman Alicia Bognanno. Her vocals move from sweet to guttural with little warning, creating a sort of tension throughout. Equally seductive and repelling, this tension is mirrored lyrically as Bognanno tackles the existential demons of 20-something existence. Her approach is often audacious, blessed as she is with youth. Hers are the observations of the young, realizing the kinds of things you realize as the world begins to jade your soul while you’re still holding onto the exuberance implicit in the post-adolescent.
As album opener “I Remember” kicks off, it becomes quickly apparent what we’re in for. Its relentless riff sets a tone that carries throughout Feels Like as Bognanno alternately growls and screams remembrances of a past love, her recollections building to become an indictment. In her hands, history is a burden she transforms into a weapon. “I remember what you do on Christmas,” she screams at the target of her scorn, holding them wholly responsible for the ghosts of her past.
Though no one is safe from her righteous and burning scorn, Bognanno is often her own target, as she turns her anger inward, eviscerating herself as pointedly as she does others. “I am trying to hide from my mind, I am trying all of the time,” she chants on “Trying,” laying the self-loathing on thick.
Musically, Bully is pretty straightforward. They’re pushing no boundaries here, but that’s not really their intent. Rather, if anything their approach is more throwback than groundbreaking. Their sound is tinted by the influence of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., while Bognanno channels Courtney Love from back when Courtney Love was young and still interesting. What Bully lacks, however, is the polish of their influences, choosing instead to foster a gritty, dirty feeling more in line with their punk rock roots than with the glossy-sheen of most alternative production. Their edges are rough, but it’s all the better to cut you with.
Feels Like is more than solid as far as debuts go. It’s about a half hour of go for the throat rock and roll with just enough of a poppy undertone to propel them forward. Its succinctness is equaled by its bite as Bully gnashes their teeth to tear through the skin that holds life together. There’s that youthful exuberance again, flailing against all odds to hold onto the hopes of adolescence as the realities of the world begin to take over. It’s a battle we all must live through as the demons of existence pile on year after year. It’s the creative well that has fueled rock and roll for decades and Bully has it tapped beautifully.