Nashville band Bully's debut album Feels Like has effortlessly created a space for itself in the rock world. Nothing about this album sounds try-hard; it is utterly organic, as if the band, fronted by Alicia Bognanno, simply walked into the studio and created Feels Like by easily turning their frustrations and their nostalgia, their joys and their fears, into music.
Of course, all this is only a testament to this band's ability. Feels Like hits sweet spots everywhere in ways that so many new rock bands fail to hit. The album preserves the teenage angst of its punk, grunge, and rock roots, but never does that element become overwhelming or whiny. The sound is familiar yet unique; the band does not seem to be making a huge effort to separate its sound from its influences, and this open-faced honesty creates individuality more than any attempts at diversion could.
The album sounds almost raw, stripped down to the instruments, including a distinctive electric guitar and Bognanno's distinctive voice, which switches rapidly between delicate sweetness and a full-blown roar. This, combined with their lyrical strength, creates an emotional heft that never feels self-conscious or forced. In the incredibly powerful first song off the album, "I Remember," she sings, "I remember that box of letters/I remember that naked photo/I remember things getting better." What the song is actually about, exactly, the listeners don't get to know, but we understand that this song, as well as the rest of the album, is really about trying to make sense of life, of relationships, of self-hatred and self-love. The album maintains that lyrical intensity throughout; not one song fades into blandness. In "Trying," Bognanno sings, "I question everything/My focus, my figure, my sexuality," characterizing the insecurity and fear that this album faces straight on. Despite how personal and emotional this album is, Bully's energy never so much as quivers under its own weight.
Though the songs of this album do not seem necessarily attached to each other in any sort of narrative, they all carry the same theme of nostalgia that seems almost central to their band (even their name Bully recalls childhood or teenage memories and the simplicity of a bully versus a victim). Their song "Six" perfectly illustrates this theme with its sentimental yet rueful lyrics, "When I was six I broke my sisters arm/She was a riding a bike down the road/And of course it wasn't intentional/But it still makes me sad, no matter how old."
Each song on this album has an almost blind earnestness and fervor, a one-minded determination. Feels Like is barreling full-throttle toward becoming a new bar for rock bands to reach for.