As rock star origin stories go, Alicia Bognanno‘s may be the only one that begins like a LinkedIn testimonial. “If everybody worked as hard as Alicia then everybody’s records would be Number One hits,” her old boss Steve Albini said to NME in 2015, after she interned at his Electrical Audio studio. Bognanno eventually switched from working the soundboard to the vocal booth with the formidable band, Bully. With guitarist Clayton Parker, drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist, Reece Lazarus, their 2015 debut Feels Like was a shot in the indie rock arm. Their big anthem, “Trying,” brimming with Pixies energy and the whizzing rhythms of the Deal sisters, proved Bognanno wasn’t padding her Nineties alt-rock resume. And her glorious caterwaul? Just the cherry on top.
Bully are strong enough musicians they could have made a great follow up coasting on their effortless guitar-bass teeter. But on Losing, Bognanno emerges as a wry lyricist, dissecting the clashing impulses that arise after heartbreak, like Dorothy Parker fronting a new wave band. It takes punk gall to deliver an opening like: “Well it’s a new year and you’ve made it clear you don’t want to see me/ I don’t get it, but I don’t care” (“Guess There”) or “The thought of your death was overwhelming/ I could’ve talked but I just rolled over instead” (“Either Way”). Well, Caligula would have blushed.
“Kills to Be Resistant” is a vivid new take on the Cure’s “Pictures of You,” where Bognanno scrolls through her iPhoto Library, talking a big, fake game about maintaining healthy distance and respect. It’s the kind of shallow mood-boosting that would melt the glitter clean off Robert Smith’s brow line. On “Running,” the band mirrors these tensions with gently dissonant peaks and valleys – occasionally subsuming Bognanno’s voice in the process. But all the lonely festering serves another important purpose. Bully’s newfound vulnerability and over-earnestness (“unproductivity haunts me!”) creates a wedge between them and their cynicism-prone Nineties influences. By delving inward, they carve a path forward.