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Bully - SUGAREGG (Album Review)

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 Written by Laura Johnson

Photo: Angelina Castillo

“I’m not angry anymore, I’m not holding on to that,” Alicia Bognanno sings on Hours and Hours, the penultimate track on Bully’s third album ‘SUGAREGG’. The record is a testament to letting go, and that’s reflected in both the finished product and the nuts and bolts of its creation.

The follow-up to 2017’s ‘Losing’ finds the singer and guitarist out on her own as a fully fledged solo act, while talking frankly about living with bipolar II disorder for the first time. And, having assembled its two predecessors on her own behind the boards, Bognanno has also broken with tradition and invited in an outside producer.

With John Congleton (a former collaborator with St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten and many others) at the helm, Bognanno had time to explore her ideas more fully.

Opener Add It On is a jolting statement of intent, sprinting out of the blocks as a furious blend of guttural screams, swirling guitar melodies, swathes of fuzz and driving drums.

Although these elements return throughout, there are dynamic shifts in tone from track to track, with each twist flecked with influences from grunge, punk and rock—at its best you get all three. Songs such as Where To Start show that Bognanno knows when to pull it back and let her melodic guitar and bass lines share focus, and also when to permit distortion and power chords lead the charge.

Prism is another example of less being more, allowing Bognanno’s elastic vocals and candid lyrics to drive things forward. The track details her inner turmoil over taking medication for bipolar II disorder, which she was diagnosed with in 2016. She delves into the topic on multiple songs, including Come Down and Like Fire. “It was euphoric, I felt so high, could’ve took my life, couldn’t tell you why," she sings on the latter.

Bognanno warmed up for this record by writing the soundtrack for the 2018 film Her Smell, which revolved around the self-destructive rockstar Becky Something, played by Elisabeth Moss. The process helped to hone her songwriting craft while out of the comfort zone of her band, and the payoff is an album that embraces the freedom to experiment, following through on concepts to fill gaps previously left unexplored.

Though the rough edges may be a little smoother, Bognanno’s puckish character has not been compromised one little bit. Studio outtakes and the barks of her dog are littered all over and are a pleasant reminder that this is very much her record, and a snapshot of her life that we’ve been lucky enough to be invited to share. 

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