We very nearly lost Bully’s Alicia Bognanno to the other side of the mixing desk. Six years ago the ferocious guitarist and frontlady was interning as a sound engineer at Steve Albini’s Chicago-based studio Electrical Audio. Yet she found herself irrepressibly drawn to a reel of tape set aside for the interns to record their own music. And thank God. Her demos became Bully’s excellent debut album ‘Feels Like’, 30 minutes of 90s-indebted grunge, sweet euphoria and frayed slacker rock. Steve Albini’s loss is our gain.
To record their second album, and Sub Pop debut, ‘Losing’, Alicia and her bandmates, guitarist Clayton Parker and bassist Reece Lazarus, returned to Electrical Audio. Yet mentally and emotionally they’re in a completely different place. ‘Feels Like’ saw Alicia put her Dr Marten boot to the throat of every good-for-nothing loser that had ever dared to fuck her over. On ‘Losing’, amid a maelstrom of unravelling guitars, her raw-throated, Kurt Cobain scream tackles self-doubt and the complexity of relationships that only get harder with age. ‘Feels The Same’ is the dissonant spirit animal to Sonic Youth’s ‘Kool Thing’, Alicia obsessing over an absent lover: “I cut my hair I feel the same, masturbate I feel the same…” Later though, on the bitter-sweet ‘Blame’ she’s kicking the habit, sighing, “I’m trying to cut down on booze and you.” Sonically, 90’s touchstones are lifelines through the upheaval. ‘Running’, with its ambling bassline, is right out of the Kim Deal rulebook, while the grungy bluster of ‘Hate And Control’ nods to Julia Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr. and PJ Harvey, relishing the Honeyblood-esque play-off between acidic barbs and Alicia’s cooing vocals.
Two years ago, Alicia told NME “When I first started writing I would hide behind hidden meanings but now I’m trying to be as honest as possible.” In that sense, ‘Losing’ is an undiluted effort to lay it all out on the table, no more than on the frazzled ‘Spiral’ where she just holds her hands up and admits: “I fucked up.” Growing up is hard but Bully make it sound exhilarating.
Words: Dannii Leivers