Sweet & Sour: Stella Donnelly’s “Beware of The Dogs”

Author: Zoey Knox

Album Rating: 

                                                                                                       

Stella Donnelly has read your diary. Or, at least, on her first full-length album, Beware of the Dogs, she writes like she has. Beware of the Dogs follows up the 26-year-old singer’s 2018 EP, Thrush Metal. Based in Perth, Australia, Donnelly toured with Secretly Canadian label-mate Faye Webster earlier this year and will set out on tour with Snail Mail this summer in support of her new album.

On the album, Donnelly sounds like your boldest friend who is willing to tell anyone and everyone exactly what they are thinking. She’s not afraid to stir up trouble, and makes her opinions known about everything from creepy men in positions of power and clueless romantic interests to self-confidence and owning your power. Beware of the Dogs opens with a pointed critique of powerful old men and what they can get away with. Disarmingly cheerful guitar chords underlie biting lyrics: “Are you scared of me, old man? / Or are you scared of what I’ll do? / You grabbed me with an open hand / The world is grabbin’ back at you.” The song is peak Stella Donnelly: punchy lyrics paired with music you want to dance to.

Beware of the Dogs is full of relatable content, as if Donnelly has read your journal and copied down your list of all of the things that tick you off about the world. Even better, Donnelly maintains a tone that is playful, never cynical. She paints a picture of relationships through simple contrasts: “He liked / Earnest Hemingway / I liked watching telly.” In the confusingly upbeat “Die”, poppy, electronic notes dance behind Donnelly’s repetition of “I don’t wanna die.” Here, and nearly everywhere else on the album, the combination of Donnelly’s singing style and lyrics is a smile hiding bared teeth. The cumulation of this effect can be seen in the album’s lively music videos, all featuring Donnelly herself, where the singer’s personality shines through.

On the album, Donnelly gets you dancing, then reaches over and pulls the rug out from under you. One minute you’re bobbing along to a sunny track, and the next you’ve been knocked onto your back, left to wonder about the state of the world. For all of the wonderful witty and hilarious lyrics Donnelly sings, there are moments on the album that hit hard. Donnelly slows down in the middle of the album with “Boys Will Be Boys”, a truly heartbreaking single from Thrush Metal directed towards a man who raped her friend. She brings the emotional intensity back on “Lunch”, singing “And I get homesick before I go away.” Throughout the album, Donnelly brings you almost to the point of emotional exhaustion, then picks you up with another bouncy track and some quip about one thing or another that puts it all in perspective.

Donnelly’s tone on this album is both tender and sarcastic. She crafts realistic images and moments, placing gems of one liners throughout the album to demonstrate her quick wit. The pinnacle of Donnelly’s writing comes in the album’s title track. Simple, layered guitars support Donnelly’s vocals in a low build, and when the drum comes in two minutes into the song, it’s all over. On “Beware of the Dogs”, Donnelly is equal parts storyteller and rabbel-rouser. “There’s an architect setting fire to her house / All the plans were there, but they built it inside out.” These are, to me, the saddest and most evocative lyrics on the album. Yet, by the end of the song, Donnelly sings of “All these pious f*cks taking from the ’99.” And, honestly, it rocks. Beware of the Dogs is an absolute emotional roller coaster of an album, and a roller coaster I would get in line for again and again.