Stella Donnelly’s new record ‘Beware of the Dogs’ pulls no punches

The Australian singer-songwriter’s debut is vibrant, brash and emotionally powerful.

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Indie-pop isn’t supposed to be vulgar. Fortunately for us, Australian indie-pop artist Stella Donnelly doesn’t care much for the status quo. Her new debut LP, “Beware of the Dogs,” was released earlier this month, and it’s a gritty, profanity-filled manifesto against sexual assault, misogyny, Australian nationalism and society.

The Perth-native’s 2018 EP “Thrush Metal” carried many of the same themes, but it lacked the instrumental diversity to push her music to the next level. On “Beware of the Dogs,” though, her music is far more sonically intricate than the lonely guitars on her previous work. The addition of bouncy synths and punchy drums, like those on the album’s ninth track, “Die,” create an upbeat and — despite the subject matter — cheery sound throughout most of the record’s 43-minute runtime.

Donnelly juxtaposes her lighthearted sonics with serious and emotionally resonant themes. Each song on “Beware of the Dogs” is a new topic to be explored — “Tricks” mocks the “Australian identity,” “Watching Telly” addresses the abortion debate and the album’s title track, “Beware of the Dogs,” calls out issues within the Australian government.

Donnelly certainly isn’t the only indie singer-songwriter singing songs about social and political issues, but she might be the most unabashed and upfront. Her frankness is the driving force of the album. On the opening track, “Old Man,” Donnelly sings “Your personality traits don’t count if you put your d--- in someone’s face.” On “Tricks,” she mocks her hecklers with the line “You wear me out like you wear that southern cross tattoo.” On “Mosquito,” Donnelly admits to her significant other that she used her vibrator, wishing it was them.

Donnelly’s songs drip with sincerity, and no song on the record is more sincere than “Boys Will Be Boys,” a track as sad as it is defiant. First released just months before the #MeToo movement exploded, “Boys Will Be Boys” is a blistering attack of victim blamers and rapists. Donnelly strips back the instrumentation and lets her writing shine here, and for good reason. “Boys Will Be Boys” is the most moving song on the album — and its best.

This album is vital listening for many reasons, but first and foremost because it is unafraid to dismantle some of society's worst institutions. Let the addictive guitar melodies and vibrato vocals of “Beware of the Dogs” drag you in, and its profound writing will keep you coming back again and again.

Edited by Joe Cross | jcross@themaneater.com

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