Feels Like is the debut album from Nashville band Bully. Somewhat wrongly, they’ve had a lot of hype piled on top of them due to singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno’s interning at Steve Albini’s legendary studio and therefore some of that gold dust must have rubbed off on them somewhere. In fact, Bully don’t resemble a mini-Shellac, but a pop-rock band poised to rule the alternative radio stations. Their songs are short and punky, but the subject matter is deeply rooted in relationships – failure or otherwise. For example, songs like ‘Trying’ contain the Pixies-esque soft-loud dynamic and have Bognanno veering between sickly-sweet ‘Better keep yourself in check / because all these loaded questions gonna get you alive’ and the yell of ‘I’m trying’. Regularly, Bognanno busts out the hoarse yell that is just built for these types of songs, sounding a bit like Courtney Love in the Hole heyday. Feels Like is a short punk-rock album and it does just that job.
‘I Remember’ is the first track and is one of the highlights of the album. As a two minute punk song it showcases Bognanno’s yell from the first words ‘I remember / my old habits / I remember / getting fucked up’ behind two layers of fuzzy chords and a Strokes-line needling guitar. The drums are somewhat drowned out behind the other instrumentation, but on the other hand this pushes Bognanno’s painfully direct lyrics straight to the front and centre for everyone to see. A lot of the time it feels like Bully are putting everything on show. ‘Milkman’, from the band’s debut EP in 2014, is a reminder of the best stuff that Bully can put out. Bognanno sings ‘I could be a milkman / or I could get up and be what I what to be’ with muted and quick guitars blur around her. It’s over in two minutes, but that’s all it needs. Bully operates the best when they don’t have the time to mess around with three minutes.
Some songs come and go easily and these are the more mid-tempo ones such as ‘Reason’ and ‘Too Tough’, which completely slow the album down after the first song success with ‘I Remember’. ‘Reason’ begins well, with a catchy guitar and the softer side of Bognanno’s voice. Bognanno asks ‘Don’t you want to be part of something bigger?’, but the bridge turns into cock-rock and the track just sort of meanders by without really leaving any trace. Another trouble here is the reliance on their EP tracks. All but one of the original 5 songs on the EP Bully appear here and they haven’t been refined over the course of recording so there’s nothing new to talk about for nearly half of the album. Despite that, the new tracks ‘Six’ and ‘Trying’ hold up against the tour-worn tracks that Bully have to fall back on.
The over-reliance on the EP is definitely a misstep for Feels Like. Though the key tracks ‘Milkman’ and ‘Brainfreeze’ are excellent, the others are throwaway due to similar instrumentation. New tracks ‘I Remember’ and ‘Trying’ are eager and bursting as pop-punk tracks and have a boundless energy about them. Some of the lyrics sometimes dip into teenage diary but some ring true to a personal level, for example ‘I question everything, my focus, my figure, my sexuality’ on ‘Trying’. Feels Like is a good pop-punk album with an endearingness and a killer songwriter behind the microphone. However, sometimes the instrumentation is worth barely a shrug as it just falls into background noise beneath Bognanno. The likes of ‘I Remember’ deserve to be judged on the quality of the song, not the connections with Albini, as sometimes Bully can really deliver good punk songs.