Album Of The Week: Bully Lucky For You

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Album Of The Week: Bully Lucky For You


The churn of ’90s nostalgia is seemingly endless, but Bully has established itself as one of the most rewarding projects amid the scrum. Again and again, Alicia Bognanno has shown off an innate ability to channel her well of emotions into ecstatic and eminently charismatic rock songs. I guess consistency is the key. I’ve always liked Bully, but suddenly they have the sort of deep discography that strikes me as fully-formed, with all the complicated wrinkles that one would expect from any of the bands that they take their cues from. There’s the buzzy and promising debut; the more aimless sophomore album that seemed to come and go but still has its staunch defenders; and then there’s SUGAREGG, the one where Bognanno teamed up with a super-producer in the form of John Congleton and took her songs to the next level, resulting in the most lucid and invigorating Bully album to date.

Now here comes Lucky For You, the kind of flex that’s hard to pull off for a project a decade into its existence. It’s not a rewrite of the Bully formula, but it does make it readily apparent that Bognanno is one of the best out there right now at coming up with sparkling alternative rock-indebted songs that feel both nostalgic and urgent — mostly by virtue of the fact that she’s managed to write so many of them so far. Cliché as it is to say, I do think that Lucky For You is Bully’s best album yet, immediate and undeniable and kind of awe-inspiring in its complex simplicity. It’s not that Bognanno reinvents the wheel, rather that she turns that shit with style. Despite admiring Bully for all these years, Lucky For You is the first album that’s really gotten under my skin. That’s probably on me, but there seems to be something special going on here, resulting in an album that’s as affecting as it is a blast to whiz through.

Though Bully sounds like a “band,” it has always been Bognanno firmly on the reins. She made that more formal with SUGAREGG, when it officially became her solo project, but even before then her roots in studio engineering manifested in an exacting control over every aspect of Bully. Each sound that graces Lucky For You is finely-tuned. It’s a high-definition listening experience, swinging from fuzzed-out and compressed to gleamingly clean, as Bognanno’s vocals float above the mix, or opportunely descend into the tangle of guitars when needed. It’s dense and packed with ideas — take “Hard To Love,” which whips between trip-hoppy drum patterns, a bridge that sounds like it was ripped out of an ’00s pop song, and a growling rock chorus that makes excellent use of Bognanno’s signature rasp. She didn’t go at it entirely alone, working with producer JT Daly and recording most of it at his MMK Studios in Nashville, but Lucky For You sounds like a singular vision, where every crackle and pop and turn of phrase is picked over and precise. Bognanno has said that Lucky For You was the longest that she spent making an album, and that extra time paid off.

And the album, in a way, is all about time — how there’s always too little of it. “Days Move Slow,” the album’s chugging lead single, was written after the death of Bognanno’s dog Mezzi, last heard barking away on the heavy SUGAREGG highlight “Come Down.” “I’m living in the same black hole,” she sings in the chorus of that one. “But there’s flowers on your grave that grow/ Something’s gotta change, I know.” Bognanno takes the loss hard, but she also uses these songs to snap out of it, provide a kick in the ass to move past the grief. “Time’s just a useless measurement of pain,” Bognanno sings on the syrupy slick “Lose You,” a duet with fellow Nashville shining star Soccer Mommy. “You can take all the time in the world, things won’t ever be the same.” Though the songs are about the inevitable stasis that comes with death, they are dynamic and bright enough to shine a light through into darkest of moments. Bognanno morphs her despair into hooks that have razor-sharp edges and make you want to keep returning to them, a hurt that sounds so good.

Lucky For You closes on a pair of more politically minded tracks, ones that express exhaustion and frustration with not being allowed the space to properly grieve because of everything terrible that’s going on in the world. On “Ms. America,” she sinks into a despondency, though one that sounds almost uplifting due to the snaking guitar lines and crystalline melodies that Bognanno surrounds herself with: “It’s hard when tragedy falls to watch the world keep moving on/ If you’re heading towards the dream, what’s another hit and run?” And she immediately jerks herself into fury and ire on the bashed-out closer “All This Noise,” a screed where Bognanno breathes fire into familiar anxieties: “I’m tired of waiting for change and debating,” she snarls. “What else is there to do when you can’t escape the news,” echoing another Nashville band’s recent single.

These are outliers, or rather an end cap, on an album that’s mostly focused on one thing: how hard and unfair it can be to get over something that you’ve lost. Bognanno returns to the same feelings over and over again, not in a way that comes across repetitive but in a way that emphasizes the wound. She is at her most poignant on “A Love Profound,” slipping between whispered talking about the malaise that comes with the end of days (“It burdens me the most witnessing your lack of interest in the things that you once loved”) and a hook worthy of a vigorous head-nod: “Guess that’s just the way it go, we never really have control.” Through that loss of control, Bognanno has made what may very well be Bully’s definitive statement. Lucky for us.

Lucky For You is out 6/2 via Sub Pop.

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