Stella Donnelly: Flood (Secretly Canadian) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 28th, 2024  

Stella Donnelly

Flood

Secretly Canadian

Aug 29, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Back in the pre-pandemic days, Australian indie rocker Stella Donnelly made waves as one of the breakout indie stars of 2019, introducing her lilting melodic talents, singular crystalline vocals, and cheeky lyrical bent with her debut album, Beware of the Dogs. In the intervening years, she’s been a bit of an itinerant troubadour, traveling around Australia and sparking a fertile new creative period that has culminated in her newly released album, Flood.

Beware of the Dogs was a record that often placed Donnelly in a jester-esque role, poking fun at the powers that be and often delivering brutally incisive barbs weaved within playful instrumentation. Yet, that sharp wit can often conceal the artist beneath. With Flood, there is no sense of hiding or pretense. The record finds Donnelly even more vulnerable, exploring into the corners of her deeper self.

Offsetting that radical honesty is Donnelly’s winsome sense of childlike wonder. Part of this is owed to the record’s shifted instrumental palette. Donnelly traded in her usual guitar for the piano for much of the record on Flood. In fact, her band almost all changed up their usual instruments, pushing their songwriting in new directions, incorporating new instrumental touches, and reclaiming a welcome sense of exploration. The resulting record feels like somebody rediscovering all the reasons they love playing music. It’s bright, warm, and inviting, a perfect record for the gently winding days of summer.

“Lungs,” the record’s opening track, seems made for indie dancefloors with its playful rhythms and shimmering piano chords. Other offerings are similarly buoyant, such as the idyllic spoken-word style of “How Was Your Day” or the lush chorus melodies of the title track. That skill with a playful melody also balances out some of the record’s downcast foundations, bringing a defiant gleam to tracks like “Cold.” Through each song, Donnelly’s voice remains the album’s strongest tool. She manages to communicate heartache, bitterness, disdain, joy, and fury, and does so in unwaveringly charming fashion without losing the striking emotion behind the melodies.

But while record offers some of Donnelly’s most endearing songwriting, it also puts on display some of her most stark, unsparing, and intimate impulses. Spotlit ballads like “Underwater” or “Medals” put an unwavering focus on the soul-baring fringes of Donnelly’s music, allowing for moments of both sweet intimacy and cutting character portraits. Like much of her first record, the latter track takes aim at a controlling and spiteful figure, with Donnelly imparting both withering pity and stinging venom—“You’ve got a lot of medals for someone who is losing/You’ve got a lot of trophies, they call it moral bruising/You’re wearing all your ribbons and yelling at the TV/You’re scaring all your housemates with your monologing.”

Even with her talent for lampooning pathetic old men intact, the crux of Donnelly’s songwriting on Flood lies within her ability to spin stories from new angles, with each one revealing insular examinations of herself, her struggles, and her personhood. “Lungs” sees Donnelly taking the perspective of a child watching her parent’s eviction, while “Flood” is written from the view of someone dating Donnelly, taking an unflinching view of her own shortcomings (“And I cast you out and pull you at the same time/I’m never here when you want my/Feverish spite and luck”).

In contrast, “This Week” offers a gently swelling portrait of hope and affirmation, burnished by gentle horns and wistful lyricism (“This week I’m saying all the right things/Being a sister to my siblings/Going to sleep without the light on/Taking a safer way to get home”). The record acts as probing tour through lives and pains, a one-woman show with Donnelly playing all the roles. She acts as both a passive observer and an active participant as each new character and perspective shift reveals new facets of Donnelly herself.

At some moments, this results in a record that is less immediately witty or playful than its predecessor. There are fewer sing-along moments and less of the deconstructions of power and privilege that ran beneath the incisive writing of Beware the Dogs. But in return, Donnelly has instead crafted a record that invites you to sit and experience it, taking in the thrums of synths, soulful horns, and glassy piano. Each element is laid out in a gorgeous spread, a sumptuous feast of melody and lush instrumentation. In some respects Flood expects less of its listeners, laying much of its charm and sweet melodies on the surface, but it also begs to be discovered, re-discovered, and treasured by those who dare to dive deeper. Those who take that step will find a singular singer/songwriter talent, one whose sophomore effort manages to be just as rewarding as its predecessor, yet in a subtly different way. (www.stelladonnelly.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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