Almost immediately upon its release, Stella Donnelly’s debut album Beware of the Dogs caught the attention of indie-heads around the world. The Australian singer-songwriter effortlessly endeared listeners with her idiosyncratically self-aware and biting lyricism, alongside a knack for earworm hooks and melodies. Flood, Donnelly’s recently released follow-up to her debut, follows many of these stylistic trends but manages to incorporate a much more dynamic palette of production.
“Lungs,” the opening track of the record, is a welcome introduction to “the product of months of risky experimentation, hard moments of introspection, and a lot of moving around,” as prescribed by the album’s page on Bandcamp. The song provides a refreshing departure from the mostly sparse instrumentation primarily featured across Beware of the Dogs and offers a much more kaleidoscopic sonic landscape that melds synthetic and natural instruments, rather than leaning too heavily on one or the other (which was another shortcoming of Donnelly’s previous record).
The album then switches gears to Donnelly’s verses of spoken word on “How Was Your Day?” which are employed to illustrate the mundanity of a stale relationship on the precipice of dissolution. The (ironic) happily sung chorus tells her significant other that it is “time to open up,” asking “how was your day, how was your day,” then stating that the question “feels like breaking up.” At the track’s terminus, the peppy indie-rock instrumentals fade into a downtrodden droning synthesizer that introduces “Restricted Account,” a forlorn ballad that seeks to reclaim a love apparently long lost.
In fact, Donnelly makes a point to include quite a few songs on the album that are decidedly dour, though they are complimented nicely with some of the more buoyant cuts. The former is evoked in “Underwater,” which describes a loved one that is trapped in the undercurrent of negative ideation. Donnelly’s voice is accompanied only by piano and reverb, which is mirrored on “Oh My My My” later in the tracklisting, differing in its use of an electronic keyboard.
“Medals,” also explores feelings of depression, albeit in a much more optimistic fashion, as Donnelly assures the person listening that “everyone is waiting” for them to feel better. Beginning with a simple musical backdrop of only a strummed guitar, the track evolves into a beautiful crescendo that finishes off with a swaying mix of drums, keys, saxophone, and background vocals. “This Week” seems like a continuation of both the sentiments and sounds of the aforementioned track, as it sees the mix of horns and background vocals return to accentuate Donnelly’s lyrics, documenting her attempts to roll with life’s punches and “feel better” by not getting her hopes up.
“Move Me” and “Flood” make up the middle portion of the record, and are clearly situated next to one another to give the it a solid set of straightforward tunes. A bustling kick drum drives both songs, with lighthearted lyrics and instrumentals that serve as some of the more by-the-numbers moments on the record.
Leaving the album off on an empowering note is the song “Cold.” Like several others on Flood, it speaks to a time in Donnelly’s life that was plagued by a dead-end relationship but takes a decidedly more self-assured approach. Emotive piano chords and wailing background synthesizers lend to the building intensity of the track until fading out with Donnelly’s layered vocals, shouting “you are not big enough for my love!”
Flood is a cathartic experience through and through; being an undoubtedly welcome change of pace for fans of Donnelly’s music. That said, the record’s more production-oriented focus does appear to have ciphened some creative energy from Donnelly’s songwriting, leaving it lacking some of the sting that made Beware of the Dogs a stand out project.