Bully’s SUGAREGG is All Boundless Energy and a Punk Smash

Bully’s SUGAREGG is All Boundless Energy and a Punk Smash

Filled to the brim with vocal power, Bully’s third album SUGAREGG is charged with undeniable punk energy.

There are so many flavors of punk that it can be tempting to endlessly add more modifiers to the genre to fully capture the feel of an album. It’s not a problem unique to punk, as the infinite subdivisions of metal show well. But it can all get a little too much, trying to subdivide and find the perfect little niche for an album. Sometimes the easiest thing is to just call a punk album a punk album. Is it loud, ferocious, and unapologetic? Does it have some cutting lyrics? Some silly lyrics? If so, then it’s probably punk. And Bully is a kickass modern punk band.

Alicia Bognanno is the creator behind Bully. She writes, sings, plays guitar, and finds different musicians to join her and back her up. For her third album, SUGAREGG, she is joined by drummer Wesley Mitchell and bassist Zach Dawes.

SUGAREGG is a fast and loud explosion of an album, all energy and drive. A few songs take it a little slower, but they never lose their intensity. The guitar on the album drips distortion, but it never feels muddled, adding a rich layer of sound. There are some killer basslines and the drums pound away. It’s punk with some indie rock flair and some grunge thrown in the pot too. However, Bognanno’s voice is what makes Bully and the album so special. Her voice has many colors and she uses all of them. Sometimes it’s a primal howl, sometimes a demanding yell, and sometimes a more vulnerable, gentle singing. They all blew me away. This is a killer album.

Some low feedback and a drumstick count-off precede bursting, driving guitars that kick off the album with the opening track “Add It On.” The album never wastes time, it leaps right into the thick of it. Loud, driving distorted guitar with a solid bass and drums foundation are the beating heart of the song, and the guitar in  “Add It On” has more going on than you might think at first. It travels and adds texture, not just endless mashing of power chords. Above all, Alicia Bognanno’s vocals demand your attention. She sings forcefully, howling at times, but always keeping a great, powerful punk energy. There’s a quieter bridge with Bognanno almost  whispering before the song ends just as suddenly as it started.

“Every Tradition” has plenty of distortion but it lightens up for the verses, taking a more subdued approach with a great little sliding guitar riff shining through. Bognanno shows off a multitude of vocal textures throughout the track, even alternating lines with a high sweet voice and a deeper venom-coated punk voice in the chorus. In the second verse, the more subdued instrumentation allows Bognanno’s lyrics to shine through:

“It’s like pressure to have a baby

When I don’t want one in my body

You say my mind is gonna change one day

But I felt this way forever

Some things stay the same

I stay the same”

With her voice and lyrics, Bognanno makes you feel this women’s empowerment song deep.

A bass line dripping with fuzz drives “Where to Start” from beginning to end. At times it’s just the bass and Bognanno’s voice, and it’s a killer combination. Another track that has its sparer moments, the vocals never lose their intensity. Moments of her gentle, higher voice immediately explode into something more forceful and undeniable as she yells, “I don’t know where to start with you” again and again. The bass may be the constant presence, but the guitar swoops in with some great high fills over crunchy chords. The track doesn’t let you get comfortable with the sound of each section before it charges on to the next with an irresistible energy.

The fourth track, “Prism”, is the longest track on the album at just over five minutes, and it’s the first on the album with a more casual pace. But it’s not lacking any intensity. The verses are clearer with smooth guitar, but the chorus erupts with thick, murky distortion that crashes like a wave. Bognanno sings with more serenity, less edge, and it cuts through the wall of sound in the chorus like a knife. The song has a cyclical feel, like waves crashing, with a pull that sucks you in. The lyrics tell of a similar pull: “Can’t feel your pain like before now it’s/Just vaguely a shadow waiting outside the door but it/Just keeps coming up.”

Alternating palm muting with loud chords and drums, the next track, “You”, has a great tension running throughout. One second it’s menace and feedback, and the next the sound cracks open and then it’s quiet again. It never lets you settle, and Bognanno’s voice is huskier, even cracking at times, but it never loses power. The song leaves you feeling buffeted around, and the lyrics tell a pretty bleak story of a woman with a child left alone by her partner with some killer lines like, “I can’t figure it out/It’s like I’m still just a kid on my way out.” There’s a bridge that brings the volume down but amps up the pressure before exploding for the finale.

“Let You” starts with another great bass line, and as the other instruments slowly emerge, Bognanno’s voice breaks in an undeniable energy. Sometimes with an almost hoarse quality, she demands your full attention. She weaves the lines of the chorus as the guitar crashes in, and the play between the guitar and the words stunned me: “But why would I have called you if I didn’t want to/Stumbled through your door because you know I want to.” It’s almost hypnotizing. Some of the songs on this album are more lyrically simple, thriving on the vocal power Bognanno pours into them, but when she manages to craft these long detailed lines with the same punk energy, it gets me every time.

A song with a chorus that’s the line “God has lied to you” repeated four times is a bold choice. The next track, “Like Fire”, surrounds that chorus with an unsettling story that doesn’t quite match the bright punk around it. There’s something off throughout the song. Maybe it’s Bognanno’s vocal performance, which has plenty of attitude but manages to still have an undercurrent of vulnerability. The instruments are busy, with bass lines and guitar riffs intertwining and it’s easy to get lost in them. But when you pay attention to the lyrics you’re treated to the story of a euphoric drug trip juxtaposed with an atrophying friendship. It’s a slightly overwhelming song, but that only heightens the effect, especially with the line: “Everything’s too much when you’re stuck in the sky.”

“Stuck in Your Head” opens with a playfully sung line and a laugh before the song kicks in full. The verses speed forward easily with energetic punk vocals, but the choruses are another thing entirely. They’re a collision of competing riffs, slices of chaos. Bognanno sings in a half scream, and in a way it feels like you’re being sucked into musical quicksand. The ending of the track feels like a car swerving down the road suddenly dying and drifting to a gentle stop. It’s a wild ride.

An easy drum line and some chill guitar begin “Come Down,” the next track. After the frantic energy of the previous songs, it’s a nice shift. Bognanno sings gentler, a bit more melodious, showing off yet another vocal texture. But as with the album as a whole, it doesn’t let you rest. The track still has great, big, loud choruses, but the lyrics are more self reflective. 

“I hate to hurt you but I had to

I peel my skin off, hit the ground

This time you’re allowed around

I’m burning from the inside out

I can’t get up and I can’t come down

I can’t come down”

The album is full of fantastic emotional lyrics like these, and Bognanno’s constantly shifting vocal style heightens the emotions wonderfully.

The next track “Not Ashamed” starts with a bang and then just keeps going at that level. The guitar slams away with the bass and drums driving along, and Bognanno’s voice propels forward at a breakneck pace. The song is completely selfsure and there’s no room for other people’s doubts to bring you down. The repeated line of “I’m not ashamed and I don’t regret it” sums up this powerful, undeniable song.

That great bass once again opens the penultimate track, “Hours and Hours.” Most of the song is bass and drums, vocals, tambourine, and various ambient sounds that drift in and out.. Bognanno sings vulnerably, showing off her gentler side again before cutting loose with the chorus when the guitars drop in. The more serene sections and the intense choruses combine to enhance the emotions of the song. There’s vulnerability and confusion and charged feelings, but, as Bognanno sings again and again, “I’m not angry anymore/I’m not holding on to that.”

The final track “What I Wanted” balances bursting choruses with grooving verses all over a driving beat. It’s a song that simultaneously feels self-assured and insecure. Bognanno’s guitar and voice follow each other in parallel. When the guitar is clear, she sings clear, but when the distortion kicks in she cuts loose. The track almost feels like it’s squirming away from being tied down, with a constant push and pull. Bognanno knows how to choose the best lines to repeat for her choruses, and it’s the final line of the album too: “I don’t know what I wanted/I was too gone when I started.”

Bully’s SUGAREGG is a great modern punk smash. While cutting loose on plenty of tracks with wild vocals and buckets of distortion, the album never forgets to center its songs around great lyrics. Alicia Bognanno captures a fantastic, garage rock sound with hard hitting lyrics delivered in a way only she can.

Top Photo by Scott Legato

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