Stella Donnelly is completely fed up, and she has every reason to be. With her blunt, raw 2017 EP Thrush Metal, the twentysomething Aussie singer-songwriter amassed an impressive following with her razor-sharp wit and hummable melodies as she recounted the perils of modern-day womanhood. Now, on her full-length debut, all of her most admirable qualities as a wordsmith are fine-tuned and accelerated. As Donnelly tackles systemic misogyny, toxic masculinity, and other all-too-familiar woes, Beware of the Dogs is the cathartic screech of someone fiercely clawing her way out of the box she’s been locked insider her entire life, set to beachy grooves and catchy, sing-a-long hooks.
Donnelly has an extraordinary knack for packaging her stinging, sharp witticisms in melodic earworms. As she sings about a holiday party gone wrong on the slippery, buzzing “Season’s Greetings” or reclaims the power over manipulative abusers amidst the dreamy, late summer vibes of “Old Man” (“Oh, 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”), she is having her cake and eating it too as she calls out vile men in the form of infectious pop tunes. One of the album’s highlights, “Tricks,” is a peppy, psychedelic rebuttal to hecklers that is sure to be bouncing around your head for days to come: “You only like me when I do my tricks for you / You wear me out like you wear that Southern Cross tattoo / You said I’d look much better if I dropped the attitude.”
Other moments on the album find Donnelly pulling back the curtain and letting us into her most intimate thoughts.”Mosquito” is a tender, airy declaration of love, the only song of its ilk on the record, milking a turn of phrase as she cheekily compares insects and vibrators: “You’re a pretty light and I’m so attracted to you / A malaria mosquito buzzing in the shadow.” On “Allergies,” a stripped down, biting breakup song, she is living in the emotional ebb and flow of the track, even getting choked up and sniffling as she pines, “The characters we used to play are walking off the stage / There’s nothing left to organize / All your shit is safe.” Of course, one of the album’s most cutting tracks, a holdover from Thrush Metal, is “Boys Will Be Boys,” a minimalist, heartrending account of society’s trend of continuously blaming victims of sexual assault for their brutal circumstances.
From the hushed, fingerpicking ode to a nightmare workplace environment “U Owe Me” to the open-strummed, environmental title track that uses the album’s most powerful vocals to speak out against the government to the synth-heavy personal plea for reproductive rights “Watching Telly,” Beware of the Dogs is the luminous birth of both a stellar songsmith and a vital advocate for change. Stella Donnelly leaves us with the bittersweet yet nevertheless hopeful “Face It,” guiding us in moving forward after experiencing trauma. One of the few records to come out of this year that’s guaranteed to have legs past 2019, if this album is her thesis statement, then we’ll all be waiting anxiously to read the rest of the dissertation.