There are some voices that leave words somewhat redundant. Those special chords that can conjure inordinate amounts with so little. In spite of its deliberately anarchic and amateurish intentions, the punk community has had more than a few. Think of John Lydon’s instantly recognisable sneer, H.R.’s reggae inflections or Corin Tucker’s earth-shattering roar. There is a real magic to them, so every time you find one that even approaches their majesty, it should be a call for celebration. Bully’s Alicia Bognanno has one of those voices: One of those voices that demands your attention and instantly embeds itself in your brain. It belongs to the same school as Courtney Love or Brody Dalle in that it treads that delicate line between the sweet and salty, mastering both with an ambidextrous verve. As likely to coo you with a beautiful lullaby as it is to lacerate your ears with a guttural bite, it is an element that makes every new release that little more exciting. Sadly though, in spite of that remarkable voice in their arsenal, Bully’s latest LP, Losing, doesn’t have much bang.
On the positive end, the production is very good. Bognanno was an intern at Steve Albini’s noise rock Mecca Electrical Audio and has taken what she’s learned there to make a great sounding record. The sound here is filthy and noisy when it needs to be but is surprisingly spacious and airy for a record of this ilk. ‘Either Way’ is a solid example of this. There’s a metronomic rhythm guitar that runs from the first bars to the ending. In the choruses, as the full band comes in and make some delightful noise, that guitar isn’t gobbled up amidst the chaos. Keeping the individual instruments in focus is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, you can appreciate the layers and layers of quality that are on display. When the album gets loud, it gets exceedingly and gratifyingly loud. But even within this, there are these subtle nuances nestled in the walls of sound. Be it the fiendishly good multipart harmonies that Bognanno seems to toss out without a modicum of difficulty, the thundering bass on ‘Focused’ or the riffage on songs like ‘You Could Be Wrong’ and ‘Running’, there is always something there. Being able to identify and digest each of these individually is a treat and helps you appreciate what has been done to craft the collection. But on the other hand, if the first response to an album like this is appreciation rather than visceral emotion then something has gone awry.
Simply put, the record is lacking. For the wonderful tidbits and hidden gems, the songs are not up to snuff. There is a fundamental issue with the songwriting when it can’t conjure up more than a pleasant smile and nod. With this level of bile and bite on show, we should be reeling with excitement and we’re just not. Musically it’s all fairly standard noise pop stuff. The dynamics shifts work, but not well enough to justify the lagging verses and the general aimlessness. It’s quite a frustrating listen because there is defintely something here. You have a special voice and a producer who understands how to craft an LP in the most rewarding way. But unfortunately, it’s all garnish and no meat. Will Murphy