Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bully: Feels Like an Awesome Album

Feels Like

As much as I listen to and love music that is either from a different era or reflects a different era, I actually hate nostalgia for the sake of it. I loved Guns N Roses back in the day, for example, but I can't stand to listen to them now. I'm not blinded by how much I was into them before to the point that I stop finding Axl Rose's voice simply grating and unlistenable. And as much as I loved the 90s, at a certain point, I moved on from that and it was only recently that I could really bring myself to rediscover my love for the alternative era. So it's a perfect time for a band called Bully to release their debut album Feels Like, which may as well complete the sentence with 1996 Never Ended.

But let me get something straight right away. This is not aping or throwing back. This is a continuation in the truest sense of the word. This is Weezer or Juliana Hatfield influenced grunge of a very confessional variety, but there's a definite millennial perspective to it that is eye opening in the greatest way possible. Too often my generation is dismissive of the "kids today" because as 40 somethings we're all acting out the same bullshit our elders did with no sense of irony because Cobain took it all with him I guess. But it's hard not to see the progression from the 90s in lyrics like "So stand still, don't you wanna be a part of something bigger. Something strange is catching up to you," from "Reason." It's nice to see this evolution of something that started way before Nirvana but, which lets face it, peaked in the 90s. And as much as it would be something to have generational bragging rights to that apex, I'd rather see the music, the ideas, the culture progress and influence the next gen. I don't doubt that this has happened already, but Bully makes it clear to me.

To top it off, Bully is fronted, in every sense of the word by a young woman named Alicia Bognanno, who, by the way, interned with Steve Albini at one point, so this punk/grunge thing is no gimmick. And while the mere fact of a woman in a band isn't a genre, I've said before that I find a certain heightened level of authenticity and power when a rock band is fronted by woman. In fact, if you look back on who some of the greatest front men in rock are, most, if not all, were at the very least very much in touch with their feminine side. For example, did you know that just writing the name David Bowie causes the word androgyny to just magically appear in the sentence like some mystical autocomplete that challenges the cultural norms of every era? I think this is because if the culture is so steeped in male dominance, then rebellion, true rebellion, has to have a strong female influence in it. Maybe. Maybe I'm overstating. I don't know. The point is, rock is about freedom and there's nothing more freeing than a woman rocking out. Or screaming out about her frustrations as Alicia does in expert fashion all over this album. The primal screams at the end of "Trash" are an absolute gut punch and a catharsis.

The angst in Bully's songs comes from everything you might expect a twentysomething to be angsty about. And a lot that you might not, since it gets to some very specific personal shit such as the fact that Bognanno broke her sister's arm when she was 6 and still feels guilty about it.  And the stand out track, "Trying" is all about the everyday struggles and life questions we face in our twenties. It's very familiar and while even the line "there's no flawless education just a stupid degree," could be something gen xers would have related to, it's very much a millennial reality that grounds this in the present. Yet it's all tempered by a vibe and point of view that is somehow confessional and intimate but maybe a little distant. Or at the very least there's a bit of that shake it off feeling to it in lines like "When you want like that, here's a ship, there's a wreck, better keep yourself in check cause all these loaded questions gonna eat you alive." It's angsty but it's freeing in a truly cathartic way that I'm not sure our 90s angst was. You confess, you deal with the emotions and then you move on. This isn't wallowing and that's where this is new and fresh and not some retro neo grunge thing. No, what this "Feels Like" is good fucking music. This is easily one of my favorite albums this year.

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