Alicia Bognanno has a voice that cuts through algorithms. Coarse and harsh and wholly unique, it simply will not soothe itself into your data-curated haze. A Bully song is a Bully song and you know it immediately. And while SUGAREGG retains the scathing riffs and sawdust vocals of previous records, it separates itself by tracking Bognanno’s growth as both a songwriter and a human. Where previous record Losing chugs along with an acute anxiety, locked in and staring straight ahead, SUGAREGG is far more content to stand still, allowing the hurricane to whirl around, embracing the highs and lows, content to relinquish the control that was only ever really an illusion anyway.
But Bognanno still has plenty of power, and is never shy to wield it when necessary. Kids, vows, and savior complexes are among the bullet-ridden targets in her crosshairs on “Every Tradition,” a snare-tight punk song with sing-a-long riffs and a gasping, headlong chorus. Bully’s catalogue is littered with this kind of catharsis, a bursting exasperation that Bognanno is able to transfer onto the listener through crushing tactility, an assertion of will that feels like us asserting our will as we listen along. Controlling a narrative can be almost as exhausting as having that narrative constantly defined, and SUGAREGG benefits from a newfound willingness to let go. Bognanno produced both Losing and Bully’s debut album Feels Like, and her decision to cede control to legendary producer John Congleton is important here, not because he brought some magic touch, but because it displays a willingness to bend her own well-established rules.
“Prism” is a perfect example. Never before has Bully seemed so restrained. It isn’t weariness per se, but a kind of disciplined acceptance. It’s an early morning to the late nights of much of the Bully catalogue, a morning of dusty rays of light and the occasional wisp of a ghost passing through the next room. Bognanno has clearly spent time reckoning with these ghosts, but “Prism” isn’t about overcoming or defeating—it’s about acceptance. “Just keeps coming up,” she repeats in a chorus that unfolds deliberately, resignation washing out the edges of what may have once been the angrier side of Bully.
This may frustrate listeners coming for only the loud, hard, and fast, but if you pull in close enough, there is still plenty of vitriol to go around. Songs like “Where to Start,” “Hours and Hours,” and “You” are just as cutting as ever, dense with scalding takedowns of some faceless “you” who might definitely have messed with the wrong person. Bully is still plenty angry and pissed off, they’re just not taking it all quite as seriously this time around, which eases the burden of the listener to match that type of icy anger. Growth doesn’t always mean change, but it can mean finding and accepting what works and what doesn’t, and in that Bully is able make impressive strides on SUGAREGG.