Where artists struggle to say something meaningful in their instrumentals or lyrics, Stella Donnelly manages to do both. Through the veil of indie-rock, Donnelly lays a deceptive bed for her songs that is constantly evolving and contrasting something in her compositions. With stories that give Courtney Barnett a run for her money and guitars reminiscent of Girl Ray, this album is truly entrancing and refreshing on dozens of levels.
With the sunny disposition of “Old Man” one can easily find everything they need to know about Donnelly’s sound. Between the snappy lyrics, warm but angular chords and a glistening harmonies, there’s a soothing but smart feeling to this music. Donnelly is constantly using this welcoming and comforting energy to push some startlingly blunt lyrics that are as much storytelling as they are poetry on tracks like “Mosquito.” By blending this energy with a strong sense of sound and exciting melodies throughout the album, Donnelly makes tracks like “Season’s Greetings” feel effortlessly fun. Not only do you get lost in the fun grooves, but you’ll want to shout her angry lyrics with an excited sense of power too.
It’s the wit and charm that Donnelly brings to the record that really give something like “Mosquito” or “Allergies” a staying power. Where some moments could feel drawn out in someone else’s hands, Donnelly has you hanging on another quip or hook at every turn. This hits its most poignant moment on “Boys Will Be Boys” where Donnelly gets absolutely raw in her vocals to tell a heartbreaking story of sexual abuse. Each cry of ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ tugs on the heartstrings a little more, as you can almost hear Donnelly starting to be overcome by the weight of the story. Though a track like “Lunch” starts out as a familiar indie-folk chug of a song, the chorus booms have such a delightful melodic run to them that you’ll never want to leave.
The start of the record runs with plenty of tracks like “Tricks,” where Donnelly is letting her grit out and bringing as much bite in her words as her guitar. As she reaches the weird spacey tones of something like “Bistro” however, she starts reflecting on her own issues as those of her friendships. This sonic exploration makes something like “Die” feel truly wondrous to hear, as Donnelly breaks through an emotional wall while seeing where sounds can take her.
It’s a testament to this writing that tracks like “U Owe Me” and “Beware of Dogs” are so fun with such a subdued delivery. Each song drips with venom and a sense of adult realization, while Donnelly litters them with amazing composition. “Watching Telly” however shows a much more intriguing sense of commentary on modern culture, as Donnelly shows how much slack men get and how much religion can simply shrug off trouble. Between the tension in the harmonies and the bubbling electronics that run through the track, Donnelly lays a great bed for her otherwise lyrically-driven writing. Though this makes the solemn finale on “Face It” a little anticlimactic, the feeling of giving up match the synths for a surprisingly downbeat ending for the record.
Words by Owen Maxwell