Latest from Nashville solo act is impressive, restorative alt-rock
Based out of Nashville, Alicia Bognanno, professionally known as Bully, is set to release her third LP, SUGAREGG, by Sub Pop on August 21, 2020. After due time spent evolving Bully into a solo project and Bognanno’s own personal development through mental health treatment, this latest album is new, refreshing and accessible alt-rock at its finest.
After finally finding a proper treatment plan for her bipolar 2 disorder, Bognanno felt free enough to write the record she wanted to without crippling self-doubt and paranoia. This lightheartedness and weightlessness carries through every track on SUGAREGG, making it Bully’s most complex, celebrated release yet.
Bognanno comes in swinging on the heavily punk-influenced opener, “Add It On.” Traditional to the genre in a lot of ways, her yelling here is raw and guttural. It’s no secret that SUGAREGG’s greatest strength is the lyricism. Right from the get-go, Bully swiftly introduces the major themes of the record, blame most significantly, as she cries out, “God is lying everyday, he pins me down/ Strips my faith, okay I had none/ But I’m angry and I want someone to blame.”
She continues exploring the theme in the following track and second single, “Every Tradition,” an upbeat, radio-friendly take on society’s expectations for women. Her voice alternates on this song between her throaty punk-sensible screams and her light, shockingly pretty head voice. No time for filler lines, it’s devastating to hear her admit, “Think unknowing you is the hardest thing/ I ever had to do.”
The mid-section of the album is nearly flawless with each track somehow topping the one that came before. “Prism” is jaw-droppingly gorgeous with Bognanno’s cleanest bright vocals and slight electronic work that feels like it belongs in the outro of a Radiohead song. She revisits blame again as she sings about an absent parent in “You,” over heavier and darker guitar melodies. “Let You” is frantic with an opening bassline that proves what a well-rounded and talented multi-instrumentalist Bognanno is.
The first verse of “Like Fire” is probably the darkest but most honest on the album, Bognanno packing no punches as she sings of her manic episodes, “It was euphoric, I felt so high/ Could’ve took my life, couldn’t tell you why.” In the chorus, she returns to the religious, god-related imagery that’s peppered throughout the record as she states, “God has lied to you.”
“Come Down,” expertly embodies the carefree spirit of the whole album, sounding like the sort of song that’s begging to be sang driving through town with one’s friends at night and the windows down. There’s a naivety and youthfulness to it, accompanied by the playful banter between musicians in the beginning and overdramatic imagery like, “I peel my skin off, hit the ground…Burning from the inside out/ I can’t get off and I can’t come down.”
“Not Ashamed” may be the closest Bully comes to a miss on SUGAREGG, but it’s by no means a bad track. There’s a familiarity to it, both within the context of the record and alternative rock as a genre. While there is no point on the album that’s particularly experimental or creatively breaks the expectations of the genre, it’s the excellence with which Bully executes the guidelines of rock that make this a brilliant listen. “Not Ashamed” is just the track that comes closest to feeling superfluous.
The penultimate track, “Hours and Hours,” and closer, “What I Wanted,” perfectly close the SUGAREGG chapter for Bully. Eerie, with faint screaming in the background, “Hours and Hours” feels like the final hit in a fist fight. It’s particularly gut-wrenching to hear Bognanno’s delivery on, “Sometimes I get to thinking if you’re half of me/ Am I half of the person that I could be?”
It’s “What I Wanted” though that feels like the final nail in the coffin. Everything about it screams closure; it’s existence makes SUGAREGG a complete body of work. At the beginning of the album, the music was rushed, messy and had a restricting atmosphere about it. Now, at the end, Bognanno is completely transparent with listeners. “I was too gone when I started,” she sings, telling listeners that from the moment they hit play, she was unsteady and unsure. She “didn’t know what [she] wanted.”
Bully has raised the bar with SUGAREGG. For an alt-rock, punk rock record to thoroughly explore complex themes in a cohesive structure is nearly unprecedented and most definitely commendable. This is a must-listen for any fan longing for the golden-age of alt-rock or simply anybody who could use a bit of closure.