Bully’s debut LP puts ‘raw’ back in rock

What was the day rock in America died? Was it Sept. 18, 1970? A late summer day three years later?

No, that can’t be right. Think of the legends since. Skip forward two decades. Was it April 5, 1994? Simply at the turn of the millennium? Maybe March 26, 2013

No matter, it seems Alicia Bognanno didn’t get an invitation to the funeral. The Nashville-based brains behind the four-piece throwback to better times that is Bully seems to have ignored the apparent instruction booklet that comes with modern rock ‘n’ roll.

  1. Add equal parts drum, bass, guitar and vocals. (For an added kick, add keys to taste).
  2. Track your vocals at least three times over.
  3. God forbid there’s depth (gasp) to those refined hits you’re pumping out.

Where many bands have struggled to smoothly implement upgrades in recording technology, Bognanno’s work with punk icon Steve Albini keeps Bully raw and real. The marketplace has been saturated with overproduced pop-rock that starts with practically every record made in the early 2000s and (hopefully) ends with Imagine Dragons.

But from the first instant you push play on Bully’s debut LP Feels Like, you’re transported into Bognanno’s emotions and the life that creates them.

“I Remember” might be the strongest opening track on an album in 2015 — it’s not a stretch, seeing as Feels Like might also be the best overall release of the year. Four lines into the album — I remember/I remember my old habits/I remember getting too fucked up/And I remember throwing up in your car — and we’ve already got a pretty good sense of where we’re heading.

I’m not sure if it’s the fast-paced nature of the album (10 songs check in at well below 40 minutes), but Bully’s sound is one that is normally just over the edge of edginess that is too much for me. But Bognanno is able to draw me in with something that keeps me — through even the most intense jams — constantly coming back for more.

Bully masters the art of masking its songs with just enough pop sensibility and addicting hooks that Feels Like could still produce radio singles, all while Bognanno continues her manic screams into the mic (complemented by a smooth voice that carries the songs).

Some stations are more ahead of the curve than others. “Trying” has been the choice of a handful of alternative stations around the nation. And if they’re smart, it won’t be the only Bully track on the airwaves in the coming months.

“Too Tough” is the strongest track on the album and encompasses Bully’s sound the best in the most accessible fashion — a gentle, bass-driven rise into a crescendo of not-quite-unfiltered-but-filtered-just-enough noise that puts a modern twist on the raspy grunge-filled early ‘90s.

At its best, Feels Like, well, feels like it was made in the Northwest music boom of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. At its worst, the song writing can feel repetive but still catchy enough to ignore. If you can handle the screams from one of the best women at it today, then I would highly recommend giving Feels Like a spin. It’s cracked my top five of 2015.

Feels Like track ranking

  1. Too Tough
  2. Trying
  3. Milkman
  4. I Remember
  5. Six
  6. Picture
  7. Bully
  8. Brainfreeze
  9. Reason
  10. Trash