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Bully serves up a pop-rock sucker punch with Feels Like

Though it’s easy to forget, there was a moment in the mid-’90s when Hole was a well-respected alt-rock band. Live Through This was pop-rock with a punk perspective, but despite its commercial success, its influence has largely lain dormant, due, in part, to Courtney Love’s more tabloid-worthy exploits that followed. In many ways, Nashville’s Bully picks up that torch and runs with it, making Feels Like an apt successor to a great band that’s had some of its luster stripped.

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That comparison is obvious when listening to the vocal stylings of the respective frontwomen. The similarities between Love and Bully’s Alicia Bognanno are apparent as soon as Bognanno opens her mouth and releases that throat-shredding howl, and her ability to immediately transition into a softer register without sounding jarring strengthens that link. Pair this with Bully’s penchant for a punk-gone-pop songwriting, and it only furthers the band’s similarities. But with that influence shining through Bully finds ways to keep Feels Like from becoming rote.

Kicking the album open with “I Remember,” Bully comes out of the gate with a punk rock rager. Full of knotty power chords and lead lines that untangle that mess, Bognanno makes full use of the song’s brevity as she rages against her past self; the one that would get “too fucked up,” throw up in cars, and end up snuggling next to a lover when the chaos was through. It’s caustically catchy, setting the tone for Feels Like musically, and establishing the depth to which Bognanno values this kind of self-analysis.

While the record has its fair share of these raucous rippers—“Milkman” and “Six” fit that bill—Bully’s quick to show it can excel by easing off the gas pedal. “Reason” comes in on the heels of “I Remember,” shaking off all that distortion and replacing it with a lazy, summertime groove and some tambourine shakes. It’s no less effective than what came before it, establishing the album’s ability to flip back and forth between the band’s two modes. However, it’s when Bully unites these two sounds that it’s at its most effective. Take “Trying,” a song that starts soft and sees Bognanno upping the introspection. Whether it be wishing for her period, questioning her sexuality, or just trying to find answers to simple questions, she projects an aura of calm. That is until the chorus sucker punches with a flurry of guitars and Bognanno’s husky hollering.

For all its strengths, Feels Like’s greatest flaw is the inclusion of two tracks that mirror one another to a déjà vu-inducing degree. “Too Tough” and “Trash” both open with a short drum intro before quickly giving way to a muddy bass dirge. It’s the kind of thing that is found in early Nirvana songs, but without the necessary angst to make it menacing. It’s a redundancy that could be remedied, but because the chord progressions are so similar it makes it hard to escape the repetitive nature of each track. It’s a small failing, but one that throws the album off balance, even if only for a few moments. For an album fixated on learning from mistakes and bettering one’s self, this stumble is probably thematically appropriate, but that doesn’t make it any more excusable.

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