Alicia Bognanno learned the great art of making a racket from the best in the business. The Bully singer and guitarist started her career as an intern at Electrical Audio, the Chicago studio of legendary Nirvana producer Steve Albini, where she learned the tricks that would set her up for life.
From there she self-produced, wrote and performed on Bully’s first two excellent records, 2015’s distorted ‘Feels Like’ and 2017’s frayed and frazzled ‘Losing’. Both albums, also featuring guitarist Clayton Parker and bassist Reece Lazarus, reaped the rewards of Albini’s influence; they were perfect slices of sweet-and-sour grunge, deliriously indebted to frayed ’90s alt and Seattle-inspired fuzz-pop.
On Bully’s third album, ‘SUGAREGG’, stays firmly in that distorted sweet spot. Opener ‘Add It On’ is glorious bubblegum squall, a sugar-topped howl aimed upwards into a blue sky. It’s so nostalgia-drenched it should come with a whiff of vintage store plaid. On ‘Stuck In Your Head’ and exhilarating ‘Not Ashamed’, Breeders-style bass rumbles along below Alicia’s animated yelps and ragged riffs. But behind the sun-dried fuzz, this is an album borne out of a period of uncertainty and change for the singer.
A few years ago, Alicia was diagnosed with Bipolar II Syndrome, a condition that had left her anxious, paranoid and prone to depression. Since then, the singer has taken back control and got into a new headspace both in front and behind the mic.
During the writing of the album, she parted ways with her long-term bandmates, Parker and Lazarus, quit social media and hired super-producer John Congleton, known for his work with St Vincent and Sleater-Kinney, allowing her to concentrate fully on the tunes, her first time working with a producer.
You can hear the transformation, not so much in the music, which still thrashes and howls like Pixies‘ classic 1989 album ‘Doolittle’ , but in Bognanno’s lyrics and tone. Where ‘Losing It’ was scarred by growing pains and the anxiety she was dealing with behind the scenes, ‘SUGAREGG’ is confident and assured.
“It’s like pressure to have a baby / When I don’t want one in my body / You say my mind is gonna change one day / But I felt this way forever,” she sings firmly on the serrated ‘Every Tradition’. Even the moments of creeping self-doubt are fleeting and temporary. On ‘Prism’, over choppy, bright guitars worthy of Dinosaur Jr., she sighs: “There is nothing I can do but relax and move on.”
By the time she reaches jangling album closer, ‘What I Wanted’, she’s accepted that you can’t always control what life throws at you, stating: “I don’t know what I wanted / I was too gone when I started”. And in that moment of ‘Ah, fuck it’ self-realisation, it feels like a weight has lifted.
Release date: August 21
Record label: Sub Pop