Bully’s sophomore album ‘Losing’ a definitive victory

Album review: Losing by Bully

Photo courtesy of Pitchfork
Photo courtesy of Pitchfork

Bully’s sophomore album Losing begins with a significantly tenser tone than their 2015 debut Feels Like. Whereas the latter fires off with headstrong punk bullet “I Remember,” the former takes a more urgent first step. “Feel the Same” precariously builds momentum for nearly a minute before bursting into fuzzy chords and squealing guitar solos. Although Bully exercise musical restraint-and-release on “Feel the Same” and much of the rest of Losing, lyrically, singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno holds nothing back.

Wisened by two whirlwind years between albums, the Nashville quartet now take their time navigating their obstacles rather than smash through or run over them. Arguably, Bully’s newfound restraint has emboldened them, sharpening their attack on patriarchal expectations and emotional trampling.

Bully have employed the quiet-LOUD-quiet dynamic on numerous songs before but never as effectively as now on “Seeing It.” They really dig their toes and nails in with a teeth-grinding riff, throbbing bass, and a torrent of crash cymbals during the chorus as Bognanno sustains a cry that could rust metal. “Seeing It” plays like catharsis for the song’s subject: the constant unique anxiety and vigilance that women feel about personal safety. 

Another one of her most incensed moments comes on “Focused.” “I am trying to stay focused,” she repeats as if she’s shouting back at all of her antagonists, trying to block out every whisper of negativity she faces.

Feels Like was marked by Bognanno’s candour, and she is no less honest about herself on Losing. She continues working through her anxiety and introversion starting by fully acknowledging them: “I’ll admit it. I get anxious too, just like you” she screams on “Running.” “Spiral” comes almost as a warning: “I know how to hold a grudge. I hate that about me too.” She accepts accountability though with one simple sentence: “I fucked up.”

“Kills to Be Resistant” is another potent moment, one of clear defiance. “Do you think you know better? I don’t think you know,” Bognanno sings before asking “Do you feel nothing?” as if she’s trying to shout feeling into the person she’s speaking to. Meanwhile, she is overcome by and bursting with feeling throughout the album. She also grapples with the push and pull of self-destructive urges. On “Resistant,” she stares at someone’s picture while she’s alone and is glad for their existence, yet “When I’m around you,” she says, “I try to keep my distance ‘cause what I want to do is none of your business.”

Feels Like largely moved away from the playfulness of Bully’s self-titled 2013 EP, but Losing abandons that playfulness almost completely. Losing lacks instantly gratifying earworms such as Feels Like favourites “Brainfreeze” and “Milkman,” but Losing does feature “Blame,” a breezy song that If you just focus on the music even sounds carefree. 

“Hate and Control” serves as a perfect close to Losing and can be interpreted as the band’s mission statement in the form of questions, revealing who Bully are. As the song’s lyrics go, Bully are “vulnerable and aware.” And people may hate them for “overthinking.” “What is it about me that makes you uncomfortable? Can we just exist without your hate and control?” Bognanno asks as she vies for her right live to autonomously. But Bully aren’t here to make anyone comfortable. In fact, they’re here to do the opposite, including making themselves uncomfortable via their severe honesty. 

“I feel like I take forever just to get a little better. What do I do?” Bognanno asks on “You Could Be Better.” What she can do is just keep taking her time. The band has grown immensely in the two years between Feels Like and Losing, and although Bognanno may still have flaws, Losing is a definitive victory.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu