Alicia Bognanno is many things, namely the singer/guitarist/producer of the burgeoning Nashville poppunk outfit Bully. However, the painfully brief (but startlingly efficient) twentyminute runtime of Bully’s debut EP finds Bognanno asserting her identity by defining everything that she is not.
Bognanno starts out the record by stating that she “could be a milkman,” a tame career aspiration for someone whose music punches the listener in the face within seconds. Not only does her voice stand out immediately in its forcefulness, but her emphatically catchy guitar melodies are the kind that could whip even the most lackadaisical crowd into action.
The theme of dairybased pursuits carries on into the appropriately titled “Brainfreeze,” a song whose acerbic lyrics seem to point to a story of young love gone sour. Where lesser songwriters could have taken such subject matter to a depressing extreme, Bognanno ends by ratcheting up the tempo and incorporating an indelible closing coda in which she tells her former flame repeatedly, “I can’t look at you.”
The third track, which is one of the longer ones at a shade over three minutes, is easily my favorite of the collection. “Faceblind” takes classic ‘90s grunge and molds it in Bognanno’s rapidly forming authorial voice. She manages to sum up the entirety of the angst felt by most young adults in a simple statement: “Impermanence is part of me”. As a new Nashvillian, this particular line struck a chord. Having uprooted my familiar life in North Florida to pursue musicbased interests, I know the feeling of not being certain about the far-reaching consequences of a quick and emotional decision. Personal connections aside, the hypnotic effects of the mid-song instrumental break is enough to convert anyone who might have the gall to be skeptical of Bognanno’s talent at this point.
Speaking of bold and brash actions, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist have the confidence to name both an extended play AND one of the songs on the extended play after the band, but Bognanno seems to be tossing all modern rock conventions into the trash. The fourth track, called “Bully”, finds Bognanno ferociously telling an unnamed subject that she “will not be [their] waterboy” shortly before segueing into a guitar freakout that seems to be appropriate for a raucous gathering of fans at a sweaty rock club.
“I’ll never sleep with you again, I don’t want you broke over me,” Bognanno warns at the beginning of the record’s penultimate track, the slightly woozy “Sharktooth.” While on the opening track, she finds herself warning a potential squeeze that she “used to be a shark”, this one finds her warning a (presumably) separate interest that she won’t be taking their shit. At this point in the tracklist, it’s hard not to take her statements very seriously.
Finally we have the brief closer, the energetic “Poetic Trash,” a song that finds Bognanno spitting back that “[she’s] not your prisoner” to yet another unnamed oppressor. By this point, she has thoroughly mounted her case as a powerful force of her own, fearless of any forms of discrimination and prejudice.
As a voracious consumer of music, it’s rare to come across a product as fully formed and universal as what Alicia Bognanno has done in her first EP as the auteur behind Bully. At the time of this writing, it’s become wellknown that they made quite the mark on the weeklong CMJ festival in New York City and are about to perform as the opening act for Broken Social Scene mastermind Kevin Drew. It seems like we have all found ourselves happening upon a major point in a future star’s early trajectory, so it’s time to start paying attention before it’s too late.
– Kevin Brown