Tony Wilson once described Joy Division as a group of people who had ‘no choice’ but to become musicians. The same could be said of Bully, a four piece whose debut album, Feels Like, is an essential release in every sense of the word. Nothing about the album has been constructed for show; one gets the feeling that music this good was always going to come out of lead singer Alicia Bognanno, whether she wanted it to or not.
Sonically, Feels Like exists within the place where pop hooks and grainy, alternative textures collide head on. Album opener I Remember is constructed around a brutal yet brilliant guitar riff, and though the track certainly benefits from being played loud, its melodic sensitivity impresses as much as its brashness. It’s anthemic, and it’s insistent, and it’s utterly brilliant, as is Trash, another song that demonstrates Bully are led by a songsmith who has the ear of a Brian Wilson, but the guitar plucking fingers of a Thurston Moore.
That said, though the musicianship on display throughout Feels Like is exemplary, it is the album’s lyrical content that really propels the release to another level. Though at times the lyric is so personal one feels as though they are guiltily flicking through a stranger’s diary, the themes are nothing if not relatable. Bognanno is a wordsmith who can take the very specific and blow it outward to the point where it becomes universal. Hearing her sings lines like ‘been praying for my period all week’ (on Trying) or listening as she recounts the story of breaking her sister’s arm (as on Six) thrills. Bognanno sings about the essential moments and mysteries that make us human, and, perhaps most impressively, the more specific she gets, the more universal the piece becomes.
In this way, listening to Feels Like promotes an odd feeling of déjà vu. Though the work is wholly original, it’s the kind of album you feel like you know intimately even after a single listen. It’s a record brimming with humanity, and overflowing with an open, honest understanding of the workings of the human heart. In short: Feels Like knows you, even if you don’t know it yet.