(Photo Credit: Pooneh Ghana)
Beware of the Dogs Advance Review
I was struck by the genius of Stella Donnelly from the opening notes of her debut album Beware of the Dogs. Donnelly hails from Perth, Australia and, aside from her EP “Thrush Metal” released last year, this is her biggest venture to date as a solo artist, being previously part of the Australian local act Bells Rapid. Donnelly has kicked down the doors of the music industry with her charmingly witty lyricism and utter destruction of patriarchal stereotypes, all while making an album so dangerously approachable it cannot be touched. Donnelly is in a unique position as an indie artist where she can write and sing about exactly what she thinks and feels without having to worry about the hypocritical repercussions of a male-dominate industry, and she has already staked her claim in the field with this dynamite release.
Beware of the Dogs kicks off with one of Donnelly’s most poignant yet sarcastically witty songs, “Old Man”, in which she calls out all the toxic behavior of older men towards women. It was released in early January as the first single off her upcoming album and when I initially listened to it I was choked up with a strange sense of sadness and pride. Donnelly really captures the fear of every ambitious young woman whose only obstacle are the men that came before her; the men who grope and sneer “give us a smile.” She even pointed out the injustice that so frequently occurs in the verse that begins with “I worked too hard for this chance/ to not be biting the hand that feeds the hate” and wraps up with “we sat there silently while you kept your job/ and your place and your six-figure wage.” “Old Man” is a song I will listen to for years to come and recommend to all my friends as we take back the fear unleashed on us.
“Mosquito” is a charming little song that sounds like what a daydream feels like. It’s a brief glance at what Donnelly might think about while alone in her room with nothing to do. It’s a song about missing someone that maybe you shouldn’t miss: she begins the song by confessing to being bored of waiting for someone and finding ways to “entertain” herself while thinking of them, but continues on to call them a “pretty lie” and compares them to a malaria carrying mosquito. The song reminds me of the cutting way Lily Allen can shred someone to bits in a pretty little song.
I don’t think I’ve resonated with a song more in recent history than I do with “Season’s Greetings.” Hot off the holiday season, I’m only just recovering from the anxieties of Forced Family Functions and all that they entail. It’s no secret that I’m somewhat of the black sheep of my family, and it was pleasant to find out the Donnelly might also see herself that way. Donnelly has a way of pinpointing those awkward and deeply personal emotions that other song-writers overlook for more grandiose emotions on the spectrum, and it makes her music that much more approachable. The song begins cordially, as most holiday gatherings might, those first couple hours where everyone is trying to be on their best behavior; eventually the song takes a turn where conversation might turn towards criticism and politics. With the line “sliding edgeways out of strained/ border protectionist debates” it is almost easy to forget that Donnelly is Australian, as it is a topic that hits entirely too close to home. Then comes the critical point in the song when another relative, presumably, asks Donnelly “why can’t you be more like your mother was when she was young?” which of course would set anyone off. The song spirals from a sarcastically upbeat tune into a discordant and cacophonous chorus of criticisms like “fuck up your life” “intimidate” “lose all your friends” before ending with a final “okay, good, fuck off.”
“Allergies” slows things down a bit, showcasing Donnelly’s angelic vocals and giving your heart a squeeze with the line “I did my best to love you/ I did my best to stay” with an intentional snotty nose sniffle left in the mix.
The most recent single off the album, “Tricks” is another response to all the men trying to tell Donnelly what to do and how to act. Once again, Donnelly fully captures the exhausting nature of living in a world run almost exclusively by men. The single is accompanied by a playful music video full of silly dancing and a lot of eye rolling.
“Boys Will Be Boys” is a powerful song transcending her career so far, as it followed her from EP to debut album. The ballad gives me goose bumps as its story unfolds; Donnelly calls out a boy for raping her friend and all the things said to blame the victim and not the accused. The song is soft as a lullaby but full of barely-contained anger and grief. I think this song is so powerful because it is not a song for the survivors of sex crimes, but an open letter to those that commit them. With the closing verse, Donnelly makes a promise to those very perpetrators: “Like a mower in the morning/ I will never let you rest/ You broke all the bonds she gave you/ Time to pay the fucking rent.”
“Lunch” is a deeply personal look into Donnelly’s own life; an ode to her touring life and how it’s affected her relationships with her loved ones. The heartbreaking chorus of “I get homesick before I go away” is so raw with emotion and longing, it makes me miss my own childhood home, only a couple hours away. I couldn’t imagine the burden of being on the other side of the country of the world on a regular basis just for my job.
“Bistro” is the shortest song on the album at just 2:04, and is a repetitive compilation of accusations that might be said at the end of a final conversation between ex-lovers. It is followed by the indie-pop tune “Die” that is a song I will send to my friends because I have trouble telling them I love them in so few words.
Title track “Beware of the Dogs” is all eerie percussion echoes and warm guitar mixed with metaphorical lyrics; it’s one of Donnelly’s less straightforward songs, yet it had me furiously Google-ing the political climate of Australia.
“U Owe Me” is one of the only songs on the album that I might consider as outright angry; it’s clearly a “screw-off” to someone in particular, someone that found themselves in Stella Donnelly’s way, and she clearly made it over that obstacle.
“Watching Telly” conjures the sound of the 80’s, but is yet another ode to the way the world views women. In the song, Donnelly sings of the typical way women are made to feel about themselves and the daily ridicule they face; references to the criticism of women who date a lot and the pressure to fit an ideal body type and disposition. The albums wraps up with the bittersweet tune “Face It” which reminds me of the way I feel on rainy days.
Though Beware of the Dogs is quite an early entry for album of the year, I have no doubt that it will be hard met by any other albums to be released this year. Stella Donnelly is a breath of fresh air in the music industry, and song-writer who sings about little things and validates all the passing emotions we’ve nearly become numb to, all while dripping sarcasm and wit and bearing a sickeningly sweet smile. She is a strong female role model that won’t let movements like #MeToo go down without a fight. Beware of the Dogs is an absolutely perfect debut album and I don’t foresee Stella Donnelly going anywhere but up from here.
I would like to extend a huge thank you to Jessica Linker at Pitch Perfect PR for giving Alt Revue, and by extension me, the opportunity to review this album before it is released. If I could go back to 2013 and tell journalism school dropout Frankie that she gets to follow her dreams by reviewing an album for a girl following her dreams, she would laugh in my face. Stella Donnelly heads out on a tour beginning March 15th in Washington D.C., following a string of shows she performed in her motherland of Australia back in December, I’ll be catching her set at Ace of Cups here in Columbus on the 26th!
Rating - 4/5
Stella Donnelly Tour Dates
Fri. March 15 - Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall # Sat. March 16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s # Mon. March 18 - Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade # Wed. March 20 - Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom # Fri. March 22 - Somerville, MA @ ONCE Ballroom # Sat. March 23 - Montreal, QC @ Casa Del Popolo # Sun. March 24 - Toronto, ON @ The Drake Hotel # Mon. March 25 - Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Fluxx # Wed. March 27 - Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups # Thu. March 28 - Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop # Fri. March 29 - Chicago, IL @ Schuba’s # Sat. March 30 - St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club # Tue. April 2 - Seattle, WA @ Barboza # Wed. April 3 - Portland, OR @ Polaris Hall # Fri. April 5 - San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord # Sat. April 6 - Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater # # = with Faye Webster