Stella Donnelly - Flood Music Album Reviews

Stella Donnelly - Flood Music Album Reviews
Grounding her second album in moments of real vulnerability, the Australian singer-songwriter zeroes in on her guiding concern as a musician: how we seek and create safety.

The opening song on Stella Donnelly’s second album seems to pick up where the Australian songwriter’s 2019 debut left off. Beware of the Dogs was full of cheerfully barbed indie-rock songs about victim-blaming, toxic masculinity, abortion rights, racists, and politicians happy to let the environment burn—songs that resonated in the moment because hoping for change didn’t yet feel totally futile. Leading Flood, “Lungs” is sung from the perspective of a child who sees through the dodgy landlord putting profit over people like her working-class parents and shrugging off the threat of asbestos. It’s stark and lovely, straight-backed with confrontational pride in its clipped disco beat, pounded piano, and wasp-sting guitar; Donnelly’s sweetly biting voice lends itself to a righteous kid’s worldview. But instead of coming off as a polemic about housing rights, as it might have had she written it three years ago, the first-person observations give “Lungs” a new kind of intimacy. It brings Donnelly closer to what seems to be her guiding concern as a songwriter: how we seek and create safety, which she essays with captivating tenderness.

To make Flood, however, Donnelly had to remove her creative bowling bumpers. After three years on tour, she’s said, she had become controlling to the degree that it was affecting her mental health. Enduring Australia’s extreme lockdowns took the sting out of her catastrophizing and pushed her to become “a little bit more comfortable with the unknown.” To counter her perfectionism, she opted to write her second album on the piano, an instrument she had barely touched in years, and she pushed her band to embrace the same unfamiliarity. The effect is naturalistic and enveloping. (It’s a tonic, too, to hear a talented young songwriter resist the apparently universal allure of going synth-pop.) The softly brushed “Restricted Account” is so loose and comfortable it suggests someone playing dreamily at home, unafraid of being overheard. Donnelly leaves a huge amount of space as she propositions a crush to “take me for granted/Take me on,” letting Julia Wallace’s flugelhorn play the chorus melody before she then sings it—like a rehearsal for how it might feel to “be your lover” that gives both parties time to feel out the idea. The sense of care for others lives in the music: Warm beds of male backing vocals and high, gently insistent piano notes coax out the title track, which touches on the challenges of trying to look after someone in a bad place. “I’m taken out to sea in the flood/When I try to dry your eyes,” she sings.

Flood’s first line, from “Lungs,” goes: “Maybe it’s the last time that I’ll see you putting too much salt on the story,” and whoever it’s sung to, maybe it also stands as Donnelly’s challenge to herself. Beware of the Dogs was spiked with little lyrical fireworks—gleeful punchlines, casual references to masturbation. The writing here is subtler, and acute even when she’s describing far less clear-cut scenarios than those of her debut. The sweetly brisk “How Was Your Day?” sets the scene for its rocky relationship with everyday images of people doing their best to ignore looming danger—like the “white-knuckled mum in the passenger seat”—and Donnelly outlines the polite detente between a doomed couple in pristine spoken word. Then the chorus cracks open and the lava churns out: “You said, ‘I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore/We let our patterns of bad behaviors take over/I’m no longer keeping score/Levelheadedness has made way for a disastrous love, I know it, you know it.’” It’s a mouthful, but it feels true to life: a desperate but comically reasonable eruption from someone who is sure there’s more out there for them than reasonableness.

Donnelly has an eye for the fault lines that threaten to reduce the status quo to rubble. The riled-up, monomaniacal housemate in “Medals” makes everyone feel uneasy, “like watching a movie next to a chain smoker”; the sweetly sing-songy “Move Me” observes, “You were always clumsy in a good way/Now it’s turned to something we all fear.” To try to save them, she insists, “I wanna be yours ’til there’s no me,” a relatably foolhardy attempt to scaffold someone else’s instability.

Balancing out Donnelly’s astute observations are moments of real vulnerability—often accentuated by paring back the band’s usual genial dynamic. She sings to piano and a rising haze of reverb on “Underwater,” a song about escaping someone intent on destroying her security that’s as shocked as emerging blinking into the daylight. She channels a chorister’s poise for “Oh My My My,” a song for her late grandmother, and you feel the effort of her maintaining her composure. “Part of me died,” she sings in a grave register, a theme she picks up across Flood: where and in whom we place our trust, and what happens when they can’t hold it anymore.

That theme recurs in the minimalist “This Week,” one of the album’s many highlights. It’s a song about taking the small but integral steps to recovery from some rupture, where any deviation from a careful path might upset the whole endeavor. The sighing horn fanfare that crops up midway feels like a begrudging celebration of that work from someone perhaps not inclined to self-compassion; given Donnelly’s usually conversational tone, the rare quiver of vibrato that creeps into her voice as she ventures, “I feel better,” is immensely moving. It’s as if she’s stepping outside those limited bounds for the first time in a long time, confident that she can take a risk and still find a soft place to land. Her quiet yet spirited second album offers one too.
Share on Google Plus

About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Stella Donnelly - Flood Music Album Reviews Stella Donnelly - Flood Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on September 01, 2022 Rating: 5


Post a Comment