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REVIEW: Stella Donnelly – ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ (Secretly Canadian)


In a sentence:

On her remarkable debut album ‘Beware Of The Dogs’, Australian newcomer Stella Donnelly shows herself to be a ferocious, funny and deeply empathetic songwriter.

Off the back of her debut EP Thrush Metal nearly two years ago, which contained the devastating examination of male entitlement, sexual violence and victim-blaming ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, Perth-based songwriter Stella Donnelly was snapped up by prestigious American indie imprint Secretly Canadian. But she didn’t arrive so perfectly formed, with her background in music going back the best part of a decade to her teenage years when she played a number of punk bands with her friends. All that experience comes to the fore on her debut album, Beware Of The Dogs, a collection of songs that’s angry, articulate, beautiful and funny in equal measure.

Music video for ‘Boys Will Be Boys’

Everything you need to know about the album was contained within ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, which serendipitously emerged just as the #MeToo movement was breaking in the States and is included on Beware Of The Dogs too. The easy comparison would be to her Aussie compatriot Courtney Barnett, but Donnelly’s style seems more complex, juxtaposing languid, sparse music with transgressive, explicit writing. Even the artwork, of Donnelly about to be forced to literally have her mouth washed out with soap, reflects that message. It’s heard straight away on the striking opener ‘Old Man’, which lays down the same themes of confronting abusers with accusatory lyrics like “I’ve worked too hard for this chance to not be biting the hand that feeds the hate” and “You grabbed me with an open hand / The world is grabbing back at you”, over gentle, sonorous indie.

Music video for ‘Tricks’

Her style of superficially sunny, almost prosaic indie guitar packaging means her forthright message is delivered like a sugar-coated pill. It’s a clever stratagem, and the results are uniformly brilliant across 13 tracks. ‘Watching Telly’ discusses the autonomy of women’s bodies; ‘Tricks’ dissects the more idiotic, unthinking side of masculinity; closing track ‘Face It’ comes across like a requiem to trauma. ‘Season’s Greetings’ sees Donnelly being patronised by older male relatives (“why can’t you be more like your mum when she was young”), with the pay-off lines “intimidate” and “fuck up your life” being repeated like taunts. Title track ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ is the angriest of the lot, despite its soaring anthemic qualities towards which it builds intially throwing the listener in the wrong direction.

Many aspects of Beware Of The Dogs are autobiographical, but Stella Donnelly also acts and sings like a vessel for the hurt and rage of others. Time and again, she observes on behalf of friends who have experienced abuse and unfairness. There’s rarely any hint of optimism about proceedings, but the manner in which she delivers her messages makes the whole package positive and graceful. And, just to show the breadth of her talent, Donnelly is also capable of turning the microscope on herself – on the slow, sparse ‘Mosquito’, she compares her lust to a blood-sucking parasite, and the forlorn ‘Allergies’ is played with a much straighter bat with none of the hint of irony of the rest of the album.

Music video for ‘Old Man’

Truly, Beware Of The Dogs is a remarkable and deeply affecting album, memorable on all possible measurements of how anyone would rate a debut LP, and Stella Donnelly is a ferocious, funny and highly empathetic songwriter whose future is incredibly bright. (9/10) (Ed Biggs)

Listen to Beware Of The Dogs by Stella Donnelly here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

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