Bully don’t let their name go to waste. Instead of bringing up images of PSAs involving rough youngsters shouting expletives at a camera, the Soft Grunge band takes the approach of creating a multi-dimensional character with problems that deserved to be screamed at. Alicia Bognanno’s voice mirrors that of Rugrats’ Tommy Pickles, if said character had kept their voice until adulthood. Guitars become as rugged as a shoegaze band trying their best at punk. Drums are addled and ready to fire at every moment. Feels Like is truly angst cried from a 21st-floor window, with documents flying messily upon an ex-lover.
For this Nashville band, lyrical exploration settles its content on memories. Bully aren’t vague in the same way Top 40 pop claims how crummy one’s life is without building up on their claim. Like Girlpool, the group will talk about their own playful adventures. However, instead of speaking of trips to Chinatown or picking grass from the ground, Bully packs their songs with venom. These are the kind of people who would play in Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Bronze club. This is the rowdy crowd that wants their screams to be the culmination of each sprained ankle on the curb or every slap their exes gave them. The band’s version of love is warped, and though that isn’t something that should be romanticized, listening to how the person Bognanno constructs trying to live is something worth hearing.
It’s in this construction that listeners can empathize with such a creation. When “I Remember” talks about naked photos and “Reason” rants about how boys can hit you for being you, it brings up bruises in the album that are physical and mental. Low and minor chord phrases are the pulse of songs, while the soft and loud tones of Bognanno are the soul. “Brainfreeze” channels memories of punk through ugly and pleasant vocals citing nosebleeds and broken knees. Instrumentation shows a lack of care toward breaking ground, sometimes reaching riffs of interest, only to abandon such ideas for the familiar and safe notes of grunge.
“Trying” and “Trash” implement their sarcastically soft bass to go along with the weight-of-the-world content. In the former track, Bognanno questions her vain attempts at making it through life. She’s “praying for her period” because it might bring her clarity, simultaneously dealing with how her mind handles school. The shouts within are perfect executions of grunge angst. Following the concept of prototypical grunge is the latter track’s messy chords that feel like the contents of garbage. The guitars are inconsolable, in short. When instrumentation becomes more diverse, such as in “Milkman” and “Bully,” then the idea that the band is still trying to gauge their sound feels very plausible.
What Feels Like lacks in sonic organization is made up for in how sense-laden their lyrical imagery is. When they talk about broken arms and flipping the bird (“Six”) or a father kicking their son’s behind (“Bully”), it’s not difficult to imagine the rough elements being something genuine. The band might not know it, but they’re exploring the importance of nurture in a nature-nurture debate. They don’t play their low and bleak chords for the sake of sounding as grunge as Nirvana, rather they show how ugly life is. Their portrait is one of red Crayola all over the place.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.