Alicia Bognanno’s band have come a long way since their sometimes saccharine pop-punkish debut album as Bully, Feels Like in 2015. There was still plenty of primal howl to it; even more so from the flammable Losing two years later. No commentary of those releases escaped without some ’90s references, primarily because of the touchstones (Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Pixies) but also Bognanno’s speaker-thwacking self-production style (she spent time working at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio Studio in Chicago).
A significant adjustment this time: Bully invited more collaboration on the recording of SUGAREGG to concentrate on the songs – and that relaxation of responsibility has paid dividends. Musically it’s still a racketing ride, recalling Sonic Youth, Mitski, Courtney Barnett and …Trail of Dead, but Bognanno comes across as liberated. Where she previously sounded coiled with frustration and injustice, SUGAREGG is characterised by a level of controlled anger – like the loosening of tension in the process has translated into a more concentrated outcome.
The result is often unburdened, like on ‘You’ and the thrashy ‘Not Ashamed’. Meanwhile ‘Come Down’ and ‘Hours and Hours’ mark an adventure into slower territory. That’s not to say any of Bully’s flame has been extinguished, or that Bognanno isn’t still in a rush to make a point. ‘Where To Start’ reckons with a relationship: “You turn me back into a child / Erratic, desperate, sad and wild,” rasps Bognanno, sounding like someone who’s been through it all to find a patch of clear mind.
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