Stella Donnelly – Beware of the Dogs

Stella wields anger, humour and empathy with skill.
Label: Secretly Canadian
Released: 8th March 2019
Rating: ★★★★

Sticking up for yourself in the face of insurmountable obstacles seems like a thankless task. Whether it’s horrible bosses, shitty men, or even the people closest to you, it can often feel like the best recourse is just to stay quiet. But Stella Donnelly isn’t going to stand for that any more.

The Fremantle-based musician’s debut album, ‘Beware of the Dogs’, is all about grabbing the microphone and calling out shit when you see it; empowering people to stand their ground and challenge the status quo because, really, the status quo is outdated. It’s an uncompromising debut that knows exactly when to be funny, angry or even both. A chance for Donnelly to say “enough”.

‘Boys Will Be Boys’, the album’s centrepiece, is a perfect example of this. It’s a track that also featured on her EP ‘Thrush Metal’ and could feature on every Donnelly record going forwards; such is its power. A constant and powerful reminder that we still live in a culture that blames the victim of sexual assault, not the perpetrator. Written in 2016, one look at the news cycle shows that it’s still a message that needs to be repeated.

It’s in the delicate, measured way in which Donnelly sings lines like “You invaded her magnificence” and “I will never let you rest” that at once conveys sheer exhaustion at things still being the same, but also the quiet fury and drive to change it.

Elsewhere ‘Old Man’ bites back at creeps over a surprisingly dreamy melody that could’ve come straight from a Beach Fossils song. Where Goat Girl or Camp Cope opted for sheer rage, exasperated and ready to shout in someone’s face, Donnelly’s rage is stealthy. The shiny happy veneer is just a front to lure the creeps in before “she bite the hand that feeds the hate”. It all helps to perfectly amplify razor-sharp lines like “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in someone’s face”.

But Donnelly isn’t just adept at cutting down shitty men. She also has an incredible knack for tackling the nuances of relationships; familial, romantic and even to your home. Whether it’s telling a family member who’s ruining Christmas dinner by belittling you to “fuck off then” as on ‘Season’s Greetings’, or detailing the stresses of tour life (“I get homesick before I go away”) on ‘Lunch’, it’s all told in such a resoundingly liberating way.

Playing with a full band allows Donnelly to switch between the raw quietness of tracks like ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ to the sing-song melodies of songs like ‘Die’, where Donnelly tries to parse what exactly is going on with her relationship, with ease. If a song feels cold or quaint, it’s because Donnelly wants it exactly that way to drive her point even further home and let those punchlines hit even harder.

‘Beware of the Dogs’ is full of first-class songwriting, where unusual musical choices only help to enhance the message at hand. Even beyond the raw power of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, it’s hard to not be in awe of Donnelly’s skills. Her ability to paint even the most mundane pictures (“Pouring pints of flat VB”) in such a starkly beautiful way is masterly. She wields anger, humour and empathy with such skill, creating a debut album from a bright and fearless voice that’s sure to ruffle feathers but also comfort many more.

Chris Taylor

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