Considering 4AD’s own description surrounding Velvet Negroni’s album Bulli—that it involved “drug abuse, bank fraud, and a house fire,” specifically Jeremy Nutzman’s home and studio—you would think the song we get introduced to first would match that energy. Imagine the surprise when the first single “Sinker” dropped. The song is a raw, funky, nearly sunny track. It has cowbell going nuts and fat bass thumping like a track that was either lost in the 70s or influenced by it. This doesn’t stop the more regretful lyrics on “Sinker,” which showcases the singer mourning a love lost and highlighting a dependency on drugs. But even then, the triple bars keep the energy high enough for the sadness to abate. In the context of the album, it sounds like an unfinished demo sat next to “Bell Clapper.” Such is the nature of Bulli.
Rather, the nature of Bulli is this: it’s the sound of a man trying to keep his head above water. Because Bulli is an album made during strokes of hard luck, the lo-fi nature of the songs feel like it has a purpose aesthetic-wise. From the blaxploitation funk mixed with hushed drums, “Pop Song 2” begins things with a seemingly remorseful voice before breaking into house-influenced keyboards to close things. “Never Said Peep” is a psychedelic soul song that sounds like a cassette recorded demo idea that happens to be finished that day. The more you listen to the record, the more thoughts start to form. Imagine what music would sound like if it were all things someone wanted to say that is locked up inside their head, and drowning them like an anvil in the sea. Now imagine if some of those thoughts were spurts of ideas and thoughts that never truly materialized fully.
Out of all the songs, “Ballad Smasher” and “Shiny” are the ones likely to catch your ear the most. Rather, one of them feels constructed to worm its way in. From the former’s sci-fi keyboards, the 80s R&B style rhythm and the vocals reminiscent of musical auteur Dev Hynes, Nutzman manages to mix feelgood 80s Philadelphia funk with hip hop. But lyrically? “Got no sleep number/got no mattress,” “suicide till the death of me.” The more understated “Shiny” is more skeletal funk that shouldn’t be as catchy as it is, lest you find yourself singing, “since I’m always disappointing/holding in my piss ’cause I’m lazy.”
Bulli is a psychedelic pop/soul album that functions a lot like a broken attempt at a smile. It’s like a man trying to look into the eyes of those who consider themselves concerned and showing an existing soul. It’s a hug out to the world outside himself. If it doesn’t come across, the composition of the music works as hard as it can to keep you from sinking into the abyss with him.