Stella Donnelly - Beware of the Dogs

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As the #MeToo movement was set to hit its peak in 2017, then 25-year-old Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly released her captivating single “Boys Will Be Boys,” a sobering solo guitar piece telling of a rape survivor.  With her seething anger weaved into every note, she ushers a sobering indictment of victim blaming and highlights the many ways our society rushes to absolve abusers while shifting the burden on the victim. Her vocals are gorgeous and emotive. It’s a commanding way to introduce one self as an establishing artist.

That track serves as the centerpiece of her impressive studio album Beware of the Dogs released under Secretly Canadian. The opening track “Old Man” is a more direct punch back at prominent sexual harassers who abuse their power. The whimsical piece of dreamy pop is prime example of Donnelly’s singular ability to hide heavy and subversive subject matter under layers of bright, breezy musical charm. Stella is also a discernibly funny person, delivering her astute critiques with a distinctly dry wit. “Your personality traits don't count if you put your dick in someone's face,” reminds a closeted abuser in the most blunt way possible.

Donnelly injects a lot of diversity into the record as she contrasts arresting slow burners with more energetic anthems. Take for example the wickedly fun “Tricks,” a song that takes aims at boorish hecklers and the overall sexist absurdity of the music industry. It contains the most grin inducing catchy chorus on the album. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, the album’s title track sees Donnelly rushing to the defense of oppressed people groups in her country. With punkish urgency, she takes down glaring racist injustices. Listen to the venom in her voice as she shouts, “There's no Parliament worthy of this country's side, all these pious fucks taking from the '99.”

Societal ills are not the only topics Stella comments on. She has many smart things to say about the intricacies of relationships and personal connections as well. “Mosquito,” is a bittersweet love song brimming with longing and endearment. “I use my vibrator wishing it was you,” is a crass line that wouldn’t work for most artist who haven’t already established the sense of cynicism and irreverence that Donnelly has. ”Seasons Greeting” is an amusing tale of an awkward family Christmas party. Her playful sarcasm does not fail to charm. “Lunch” gives an intimate and honest portrayal of her homesickness while she is pulled away while on tour.

Stella Donnelly has a knack for irony. The innocuously titled “Watching Telly,” is actually a bitter critique of the way the media objectifies women while turning their bodies into a commodity. “Allergies” is a matter of fact breakup song titled to justify her snotty vocals. The breakup is very recent and those tears and sniffles heard in the recording are very real.

Stella Donnelly demands close listening with her mature lyrical abilities and impassioned vocals. She admirably utilizes her talents and her voice to speak on behalf of the victimized. For such a young artist on a debut album, she has already positioned herself as an original artist brimming with untapped potential.

Grade: B

Matt Marciniec