To any plaid shirt-clad, Kim Deal-obsessed analogue recording nerd, the career of Alicia Bognanno is the stuff of fantasy. The seeds of the 25-year-old’s gnarly Nashville grunge-pop band Bully were sewn during an internship at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. There, after work, she got to put the skills she picked up from her audio production degree into practice using the ‘In Utero’ producer’s hallowed reel-to-reel setup.
As a mentor, Albini’s hard to beat, having been at the centre of US alt-rock since his days with noise punks Big Black in the ’80s. And musically, Bully undoubtedly take cues from the fuzzed-up hooks he engineered for The Breeders and Superchunk in the ’90s. But ‘Feels Like’ has neither a whiff of nostalgia nor nepotism. With her honest, witty lyrics and tight punk rock production, this self-recorded gem is all Bognanno’s.
Her voice is Bully’s power centre, erupting from melodic drawl into a terrifying snarl. “I remember getting too fucked up/And I remember throwing up in your car”, she retches over whitewater riffs on two-minute opener ‘I Remember’. If that’s her playing the part of the dramatic ex, then on the chorus of ‘Trying’ she enters full Courtney Love mode, roaring through her insecurities like it’s all she can do to stifle a breakdown. But the similarities with the First Lady Of Grunge end there, because while Hole bulldozed through tragic prom queen glamour to reach a ruthless angst-riddled catharsis, Bully’s drama is more routine.
‘Reason’ captures teenage norms in its shout-out to bedroom guitar players and, on ‘Six’, a profound significance is attached to a seemingly innocuous childhood mishap. Here, an apologetic Bognanno howls about accidentally breaking her little sister’s arm before whispering to her, “Fuck those jerks, they’re only angry/They don’t know you’re great, but I do”. Throw in the odd goofy rock’n’roll chorus (‘Brainfreeze’) and frothing pop-punk hurricane (‘Milkman’), and you’ve got an album that revels in the simplicity of a great pop song while cleverly articulating the everyday truths of 20-something life, on Bognanno’s terms alone.