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April 2020

Bully - Losing

'Losing' feels like a natural progression of Bully’s story.
Bully - Losing
Published: 12:14 pm, October 17, 2017
'Losing' feels like a natural progression of Bully’s story.

Label: Merge Records
Released: 20th October 2017
Rating: ★★★★

Bully’s backstory is basically one everyone with a 'Nevermind' poster on their wall wishes was their own. An internship with Steve Albini himself, presumably doing far more than making the teas. A chance to get hands-on at Electrical Audio for a crash course in music production. A bit of downtime to sow the seeds of a band that would later create a seriously tight debut album packed with rollicking tunes. It’s a dream, to follow in the footsteps of idols.

But for Alicia Bognanno, this was her life, and it was serious business. Of course, working with Albini has shaped how she makes music, and yes they have a penchant for baggy flannel shirts, but Bully are far from another Nirvana knockoff. They’re here to tell their own story.

Their debut, 'Feels Like', was an explosive introduction to a band that did everything themselves. From the raucous exorcism of “I Remember” to the blistering fun of 'Milkman', it was a true coming-of-age album that is still as impressive today as it was back in 2015.

Two years later, it feels like Bully have done a lot of growing up. On 'Losing', Bully are no longer trying to get to grips with the maelstrom of emotions; now it’s all about figuring out what the fuck to do next.

Opening track 'Feels The Same' almost acts as a bridge between 'Feels Like' and 'Losing'. Here Bognnano is almost trapped in an endless cycle (“Cut my hair / I feel the same / Masturbate / I feel the same). Life becomes rote, but instead of aimlessly throwing around emotions as we all tended to do when we were younger, this older and wiser Bognnano starts to tackle things head-on.

Whether it’s relationships, sexism or general malaise, Bully are now fully prepared to fight their way through it all. All the confused anger has already been expelled and now, even though it’s difficult to see what path they need to take, it’s clear they just need to focus that fire to eliminate the obstacles.

At times, it can feel like Bully have trimmed their claws a little bit. Bognnano’s signature scream, in particular, takes much more of a backseat here. But perhaps this is part of their growing up. It’s a much more reflective album, harking back to incidents with bad weed ('Focused') and agonising over consequences rather than just raging ahead like a furious fireball ('You Could Be Wrong').

“It just takes one disagreement, for you to remember the one time I fucked up,” Bognanno sings on 'Spiral' as she gets ready to kick her partner to the curb. Where screams would normally fill the room, instead plaintive “oohs” are the order of the day. The same anxieties that shaped 'Feels Like' remain, but the paths taken to solve them are vastly different.

It is easy to miss the bite and verve of the old Bully, but Bognnano is still as open and raw as ever. Now she’s poking around in the open wounds with a purpose; ready to seal the endless abyss that is self-doubt and start finding her way through life with clearer eyes. There’s nothing nearly as impactful here as on 'Feels Like', but 'Losing' feels like a natural progression of Bully’s story. From intern, to forming a band, to exorcising demons, and now to understanding the self, this is still Bully, just older and wiser. Chris Taylor

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