Bully – Feels Like
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What year is it in the alternate universe where Bully lives? The group's debut album, Feels Like, may have been released in 2015, but danged if it doesn't sound exactly like it was created sometime during the late-'80s to mid-'90s window when indie rock went from an underground phenomenon to every twenty-something's birthright. In particular, Feels Like recalls the scruffy guitars, polarized dynamics, and smart-gal anger of early PJ Harvey and Pod-era Breeders, with any number of grunge acts informing the sloppy but fiercely purposeful velocity of the music, and the closing cut "Bully" even sounds like a tribute to Jennifer Trynin's indie-ish semi-hit "Better Than Nothing," right down to its blasé but provocative opening line. Vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Alicia Bognanno sings with a mixture of confessional whisper and primal howl that demonstrates she's learned well from her influences, and her bandmates -- Clayton Parker on guitar, Reece Lazarus on bass, and Stewart Copeland (not the guy from the Police) on drums -- sound at once bare-boned and full-bodied as they keep the arrangements simple but execute them with the requisite amount of muscle and distortion. The production of Feels Like even recalls the dry but forceful audio Steve Albini brought to his projects with Harvey and the Breeders; while Albini didn't work on the album, it was recorded at his Electrical Audio studio in Chicago, where Bognanno was once an intern, and as co-producer she emulates his trademark sound quite well. Ultimately, the problem with Bully is that Bognanno is brilliant at emulating the sound and approach of others, but she's still learning how to transform the elements into music that's truly her own, and even her lyrics, which are often sharp and darkly witty, suggest the emotional travails that have been the stuff of young adult angst for several decades now. There's no questioning that Bully are very, very good at what they do, but Feels Like is an album from a band that still seems to be maturing into its own musical approach, and one can't help but hope Bully will find a more unique voice after a few years of touring and writing. As it is, Feels Like gets high marks for craft but barely merits a passing grade for fresh thinking.