Beware of the Dogs is Stella Donnelly’s marvellous debut album proper, possessing the vivid clarity of a set of diary entries and framed in a set of infectious, deftly produced songs; the 26-year-old artist is calling out abusive men, terrible bosses, racists, and clueless partners, and in the process she depicts her growth as an empowered young woman and burgeoning artist. Whether breezy or stripped back, each of her tunes are dipped in an introspective brutality or a sardonic twist, that reveals itself as you pay closer attention to each song.
“This album made me feel like I was back in the driver’s seat. It was really liberating and grounding to realize that no one can fuck with this except me.” she says and ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ expands on the glory of the Welsh-born, Perth native’s awesome, stripped-down debut EP ‘Thrush Metal’ released back in 2017. Recorded at home on ‘a crappy $100 guitar’ her wonderful vocals gave voice to her experiences of everyday sexism and her startling song ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ confronts the man who had raped her friend, tackling the resulting victim-blaming that ensued; it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in recent years – no wonder it became an anthem for the #metoo generation. Stella Donnelly is the artist we need right now.
For her debut long player she’s recruited best friends: bassist Jennifer Aslett, drummer Tayla Valenti, and guitarist George Foster. “It really opened my ears to hear something other than my own guitar,” she says. Thus her debut has more textures, yet it’s still deftly produced by Dean Tuza who adds more of a canvas but doesn’t overcrowd Stella’s songs. It’s a neat balance of more upbeat jangle pop songs, influenced by her years learning guitar to Billy Bragg records, in fact, at times you can hear echoes of his ‘Don’t Try This at Home’ album, or a shinier version of c86 bands of yore. This is most symbolised by the shimmering and tuneful ‘Old Man’, Stella calling out pervy men (like Woody Allen) who take advantage of their power; its effortless tune and lilting vocals are barbed in Stella’s trademark wit ‘your personality traits don’t count/if you put your dick in someone’s face.’ This album is littered with these kinds of caustic smirk-inducing put-downs. ‘My mum’s still a punk/and you’re still shit’ she asides like a smiling assassin on the tuneful, almost jaunty ‘Seasons Greetings’. ‘You’re jerking off to the CCTV/While I’m pouring pints of flat VB’ she sings about her time as a barmaid on the hushed ‘U Owe Me’.
‘Tricks’ is deliciously bittersweet, breezy percussion and carousing guitar licks, taking aim at racist Australian pride and the absurdity of the music industry with more playful arty vocals, it’s probably the closest she gets to sounding like early Courtney Barnett.‘Next door sounds like bloody war’ she emotes on the homespun brutality of the fantastically graphic title track, whose building narrative tells the tale of domestic violence and switches to kicking racists in the shins – an empowering anthem for the under-represented, ‘all these pious fucks taking from the 99’ she sneers above slashing guitars and stomping drums.
The other face of the record returns to Stella’s more introspective stripped back sound, the aforementioned ‘Boys Will be Boys’ is the albums outstanding centrepiece and its beating heart, one that’s only taken on more resonance given the recent stories about Ryan Adams. There’s the easy waltz of ‘Allergies’ with a brittle honesty, “I did my best to love you, I did my best to stay” she sings in a heart-tugging way, almost like she’s singing to herself, her voice breaking in a moment of heartbreaking introspection. The country-tinged tumble of ‘Lunch’ is a homesick plea for time with a loved one who is letting her down before she sets off on another tour, framed in a gorgeous Wurlitzer of shuffling percussion, yelped backings and organs, Stella’s voice piercing with an earnest yearning, it has a touch of early Crowded House about it, which is meant as a compliment.
By giving voice to her experiences Stella Donnelly is an artist giving a face to today’s climate of injustice, gender imbalance and music industry sexism and abuse, she’s giving voice to the voiceless, she’s turning the tables, ripping power from the powerful with humour. That he does it all with such class is credit to her outstanding voice and talent: this is wonderful, sharp and clever songwriting, catchy yet laced with her wit and personality. It’s what great pop music is all about. Lock up the dogs, shut up boys, stick a pipe in it gammons, here comes Stella – it’s remarkably welcome and by god it sounds thoroughly fantastic.
Beware Of The Dogs is released on 8th March through Secretly Canadian.