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Album Review – Bully: Feels Like

The album cover for Feels Like by Bully

What to do about punk rock’s hyper masculine complex? What to do about its coded misogyny? How to best promote inclusion in a genre as testosterone fueled as punk rock? To put it in pedestrian terms, how do we make punk rock not suck for women?

We refer to the most comprehensive attempt to fix that problem as the Riot grrrl movement of nineties, and we’ve yet seen another female-led punk movement quite like it. Take it from original Riot grrrls Sleater-Kinney, who cited the lack of bands carrying the torch they lit two decades ago as a major reason for their return with No Cities To Love earlier this year.

But glimmers of riotous hope do exist, chief among them Nashville fourpiece Bully led by the tireless Alicia Bognanno. Bognanno is an unlikely punk hero, just as Feels Like is an unlikely punk record. The paradoxical relationship shared by Bognanno’s confessional lyrics and the album’s true blue punk sound strike an unexpected, edgy balance. Turns out women’s emotions are actually punk rock.

What is and isn’t punk is perhaps the deadest horse available for beating, but that doesn’t make aforementioned unexpected balance any less interesting. Feels Like subverts accepted notions of punk and feelings and femininity; it’s a punch in the gut to (male) rockist ideas of who gets to play what type of music. And just because Bognanno is willing to share with the class doesn’t mean she’s crying softly in the corner. She has no reservations about yelling or otherwise making herself heard (see: raucous album opener “I Remember”) and she doesn’t care if you don’t like it.

With no frills, no time to waste (the longest track doesn’t clear the four minute mark), no apologies and no shrinking violets, Feels Like embodies the complete ethos of classic punk. Album highlight “Trash” functions as an exercise in killer basslines, fiery guitarwork and frustration with a cheating significant other (“I wonder what else you’ve been up to / If I don’t want to listen then I’m not going to”).

Hell hath no fury like Bognanno, who spends much of Feels Like less than amused. She’s at her best when she’s spitting venom, sick of it all or reeling from crap luck. She endows the trials of the modern girl with some serious punk cred on “Trying”, singing, “Been praying for my period all week, for relief that I just can’t see / I question everything: my focus, my figure, my sexuality.” It’s a phenomenal feminist anthem anchored by a punchy riff and steady bassline that stand out and up on their own.

Cut from a similar cloth as Speedy Ortiz’s Foil Deer and Wolf Alice’s EP’s, Feels Like features clever punk songwriting at its most straightforward. Bully are still fleshing out their songwriting – “Reason” sounds generic, “Six” stumbles on overwrought lyrics about childhood and a treble-y riff that doesn’t fit quite right – but Bognanno’s message and hard-hitting cuts like “Sharktooth” are reason enough to keep the band on your radar.

Long story short: Feels Like feels like the return of women no longer ashamed of their femininity. If a new female-led punk movement is indeed rising, Bully (together with Chastity Belt) will most likely be at its helm.

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Elle is a writer and art student based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ellecoxon

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