When self-described “Dean of American Rock Critics” Robert Christgau reviewed Pavement’s debut classic, Slanted and Enchanted, he praised the band for their ability to be “good at both tune and noise.” This was 1992. Now, Nashville rockers Bully are channeling the ingredients that made ’90s groups such as Pavement stand out against their grungy contemporaries.
With Feels Like, Bully proves that in 2015 there’s still room for heavy alt-rockers to make inspired and original music without sounding dated. This is due to, as was Pavement’s specialty, the band’s ability to create unapologetic rock music that showcases their pop and melodic sensibilities. The album holds 11 tracks, each with either a punkesque brevity or running just long enough to be a radio hit, with no track breaking the four minute mark.
The other reason why Feels Like works so well is because of lead singer, Alicia Bognanno, who undoubtedly would have been your favorite female grunge vocalist had she been on stage in the ’90s. Bognanno proves herself to be more versatile than the singers she is inspired by. She is able to growl her way through these 11 tracks while still providing refreshing harmonies and showing masterful restraint without selling out on what would be the “poppier” tracks. It should be noted that these songs are in no way sell-out tracks; these are original pop moments perfect for the summer in which they arrived.
Feels Like is an album that would normally be described as having a “punch in the gut” effect on the listener. Rather, underneath Bully’s abrasive qualities is a depth brought on by the self-reflective lyricism that ascends their rock n’ roll past its normal boundaries; it can accurately be described as a “breath of fresh air.” Bognanno proves herself to be a unique and confident songwriter through and through, which helps Bully escape the endless number of ’90s bands they can be compared to.
On “Trying,” Bognanno showcases her lyricism from start to finish. She touches on her insecurities, her morality, her self image, her sexuality, and questions the larger implications of these subjects over one of the catchiest tracks on the album. “I question everything, my focus, my figure, my sexuality/ And how much it matters or why it would mean anything/ I can’t keep it together, I’ve been better/ I’ve been thinking about it every night.”
Feels Like is a consistent album with no songs that should be overlooked. Bully’s power lies in the fact they are at times able to draw the listener in through their addictive melodies and ear catching lyrics, while at other times make the listener take a step back at their harshness. This versatility is what makes Bully captivating and it seems like they know that too. By no means is this a masterpiece like the aforementioned Slanted and Enchanted, but Bully is confident in their sound and will keep impressing us.