Whole swaths of misogynistic Aussies should be shaking in their boots.
Stella Donnelly doesn’t seem pissed. On her debut album Beware of the Dogs, she strolls through synth-pop jaunts and tosses off glorious vocal lines that land like a ray of sunshine. But that’s a stunningly crafted façade begging for you to dive into the unnerving, hypnotic truth. Donnelly is another star in the #MeToo wave sweeping the music industry, calling out predators both off-stage and through the music itself. There’s no one as angry, or ready to focus it, Inigo Montoya-style, as she is.
Donnelly shows off her Jangle-pop roots but there’s no nostalgia here. She plucks from the ‘80s rather than worshiping it. Everything But the Girl would be proud both of her pop chops and forward direction. Her spidery guitar work leans on the chiming side, occasionally sounding more like a xylophone or a washed-out synth, rather than a proper six-string. But on songs like “Mosquito” it adds to the heavenly decadence she’s found. Unlike say, the warped reverb of Mac DeMarco, Donnelly doesn’t wallow in the saturation, it’s all another well-sculpted texture to add to her story telling and engrossing sound.
Her pretty poison could be compared to St. Vincent’s housewife-on-barbiturates diatribes, but Donnelly isn’t hiding eldritch horrors behind a porcelain façade–it’s her perfected method of flashing a dazzling smile while giving the bird. Beware of the Dogs is a deeply antagonistic record, at least to a certain audience. The well of incredibly uncomfortable humor reads like a hardcore feminist re-reading of Bojack Horseman, every punch line sneaking in an utterly devastating emotional blow that bruises long after the laugh retreats. A smidge of Wham! might run through some of the album’s second half, but it’s there to make the bitter pill a tad easier to swallow. “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your dick in somebody’s face,” is hilarious but, let’s not beat around the bush, if Robber Barons could have telegrammed dick pics, they would have. The technology that invites a cornacockia of unsolicited genitalia is only a facilitator, not the root cause. Meanwhile “My mum’s still a punk and you’re still shit,” is a DIY-generational sort of slogan that Donnelly tosses off like she’s got a dozen more zingers in the tour van. But “Seasons Greetings” takes a brutal look at the roles woman can and cannot inhabit. Her defense of her mom comes from a bevy of outside voices asking her to calm down and act respectable, like her mother once did. Of course, their obedience-washed memory ignores all Donnelly’s autonomy.
Beyond the one-liners and sucker punches, a sense of vulnerability trembles at the edges. At the end of “Seasons Greetings” two voices begin a de-motivational speech ending with “fuck up your life,” a cruel, and true representation of the inordinate number of forces gnawing at any woman’s self-esteem in the music industry. She also allows more personally crushing notes in. Some are funny, like the cheery “I don’t wanna die” added by cherubic harmonies that follow her on a mad car ride and some asshole boyfriend “jerkin’ off to the CCTV” while she’s trying to get his attention. But most of them are like her cooing “I used my vibrator/ Wishing it was you.”
And any previous pretense of obscuring her fury and wounds ends on “Boys Will Be Boys.” The song has been hanging around for over a year, but its stark, scorched earth tactics still shock and entrance. Over just her plinking guitar, Donnelly makes a vengeful promise to every rapist in this life: she will destroy you. “Your father told you that you’re innocent/ Told you that women rape themselves/ Would you blame your little sister/ If she cried to you for help?” she asks, already knowing the answer. “It’s time to pay the fucking rent,” she sings, joining Torres’ “Sun You Are No Island” on channeling a Goddess of pure anger. The title track packs a slight surprise, aiming for politicians rather than harassers, but Donnelly makes sure we know her venom, and their crimes, are intertwined. The dogs invading, shaping, perverting Donnelly’s world are paper tigers, sniffing out the weak but folding as soon as pressure creeps in. Donnelly’s here as a badass, avenging angel. If she and fellow fiery feminists Camp Cope ever team up, Avengers-style, whole swaths of misogynistic Aussies should be shaking in their boots. Through viciously direct lines or implication, she doesn’t need to pull up data or a full history lesson, she’s pissed and you know exactly why.