A sledgehammer of a breakup record that doesn’t spare any of the messy details.
Bully’s sophomore LP Losing, is a sledgehammer of a breakup record that doesn’t spare any of the messy details related to the process of getting over (or not getting over) the end of a relationship and the toll that takes on one’s psyche. Like the band’s debut, the album is full of huge hooks that stick in your mind like barnacles, and the production, handled by their versatile frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, is deep and dynamically varied. Losing is a punk record whose quiet moments embolden and justify its loudest ones and keep the listener invested in its overarching narrative of piecing yourself back together despite brutal circumstances.
Losing begins more or less in media res with the single “Feel the Same,” an ode to unrelenting, unshakeable malaise. Like many Bully songs, Bognanno spreads her vocals across multiple tracks and locations in the mix, which create a sense both of just how long she’s been in this funk, as well as manufacturing a kind of internal dialogue between multiple version of herself. It’s a savvy trick in a situation where many artists may opt for the surface-level immediacy of a single vocal track, and helps drop us right in the middle of the story that’s unfolding.
“Kills to be Resistant” seethes with the discomfort of being forced to stifle your feelings for the sake of civility, and it shifts between verses that are confessional and sweet (“When I’m alone, I stare at your picture / It makes me hopeful, I’m glad for your existence / When I’m around you, I try and keep my distance / I try and be respectful, it kills to be resistant”) and one of the record’s most visceral instrumental breakdowns, where you can feel the tug of war between drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Clayton Parker in what is probably Losing’s heaviest moment.
While Bognanno is capable of rendering her own thoughts and feelings in wrenching fashion with an eye towards details and grey area emotions others may ignore, she’s an equally skilled storyteller, a trait she demonstrates on “Focused.” The track recalls “Six,” a highlight of their from their 2015 debut in which Bognanno recounts the story of accidentally breaking her sister’s arm with such well-worn guilt and perverse nostalgia that you feel like part of the family too. “Focused” is methodical and deliberate, with tom flourishes from Copeland and a languid little guitar melody that only plays on the first and third bars of each 12-bar phrase, but hangs over the rest of the track like summer humidity.
On the album closer, “Hate and Control,” Bognanno and the band use their heart-on-the-sleeve style to rail against abusive power structures and dynamics in a way that fits with the record’s ultra-personal focus, but also feels more explicitly political than anything they’ve done prior. “Hey, are you doin’ alright today? / I know everyone’s shaken up / Guess the power lies in hate / I mind you for speakin’ up I need your conversation,” she sings, before asking the trenchant two-part question: “Will I lose my voice completely? How long has it been here?” The rest of the band rises to the occasion as well; Parker’s chords on the verses are loose and aching and the thunderous cymbals, crunchy guitar and heavy bass merge on the hook and outro congeal into one of Losing’s best jolts of modern grunge.
Overall, the melodies are broader and the tracks are a bit less sludgy here, and the band collectively succeeds at overcoming the natural limitations of the punk quartet format by experimenting with different harmonies and packing unique bursts of melody into unconventional pockets of tracks. Even if they never get better than this, Bully’s songwriting and chemistry on Losing are so strong that it seems the band will be able to wring more out of this formula than just about any of their peers.