The follow-up to Beware Of The Dogs showcases a different side to the Australian’s songwriting
There’s something very much happening in alt-rock circles in Australia at the moment. Following on from Courtney Barnett‘s success over the last couple of years, there’s been a veritable tidal wave of new Antipodean talent – Julia Jacklin, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Alex The Astronaut and, of course, Stella Donnelly.
Donnelly’s first album, Beware Of The Dogs, was a startling debut – marrying some sugary, frantic indie-pop to lyrics that were barbed, on both the personal and political side. It was an impressive record, and one that signalled her out as one of the biggest talents to emerge in 2019.
Three years later, we have the follow-up, Flood, and there’s a slightly different side to Donnelly on display this time around. The lyrics may not be as barbed – there’s nothing as ferocious as the debut’s Old Man – and there’s a bit more focus on some piano-based ballads. None of this is a bad thing at all, and in fact demonstrates how rapidly Donnelly’s songwriting is already evolving, even at this early stage of her career.
An early highlight of Flood is How Was Your Day, a break-up song which bounces along beautifully while Donnelly delivers her verses in a very quick-fire, half-spoken manner – there’s talk of “polite conversation about unclaimed mail”, and in a line which demonstrates just how well she can write about relationships, “level-headness has made way for a disastrous love”. The naggingly catchy chorus is just the icing on the cake for one of the best songs of the year.
Lungs covers similar musical territory, but this time from the perspective of a child watching her family be evicted from the childhood home. The melody may be bright and upbeat, but lines like “don’t watch us when we leave…I see the way you look at my dad and mum” are beautifully observed.
Those tracks are, musically at least, the outliers on Flood. The tone is pretty downbeat on a lot of tracks, which may take any fans of Donnelly’s early work by surprise. It’s beautifully crafted though – the gorgeously muted brass on This Week is spine-tingling, and Underwater is a sensitive piano ballad about abusive relationships, and how difficult they are to leave (“They say it takes a person seven tries to leave, I can remember at least five”).
Arguably, there may be a few too many downtempo numbers – Restricted Account is a bit of a comedown after the fizz of How Was Your Day, and the second half of the album in particular starts to feel a bit dragged down by too many ballads. Even here though, there’s a gem like the haunting Oh My My My which calls to mind none other than the late great Julee Cruise, with its gentle piano chords and ghostly vocals.
The closing track Cold does round things off on a note which becomes almost cathartic though – another break-up song which builds beautifully up to a chant of “You are not big enough for my love”, repeated until the song ends. It’s a stirring moment, one which you can imagine being very effectively recreated at live shows over the next few months. Flood may not have quite the impact that her debut did, but it ably demonstrates why she’ll be around for many years to come.