Just like the Australian shorebirds that adorn the cover of Flood, Stella Donnelly is in flux; wading into the water with an introspective sophomore record flowing with playful observations on human dynamics. Unlike the previous punk snark of her guitar-driven debut LP Beware of the Dogs, or her 2018 EP Thrush Metal, Flood feels far more self reflective and personal.
During her time living in Bellingen, the Aussie singer-songwriter reconnected with herself through birdwatching, forgetting who she was as a musician; a humbling experience of just being her “small self”. Leaving the subtropical rainforest, and passing through new locations like Fremantle, Williams, Guilderton, Margaret River and Melbourn, brought new approaches to her creativity. Donnelly spreads her wings on Flood; a collection of eleven narrative-driven tracks that are unafraid of showing vulnerability.
Uniquely, Donnelly writes from the perspective of various personas. Opening with indie-pop track ‘Lungs’ – the first single released from the LP – Donnelly assumes the role of a intimidatingly honest child whose family has just been evicted. “we put up with your shit to keep the power on / and I see the way you look at my dad and mum.” Lyrically it’s a stark contrast to the infectious instrumentation; a combination of twangy bass and bright, snappy synth. “Long live the asbestos on the rental!”
Delivering her verses in Courtney Barnett-esque spoken-word across breezy riffs, ‘How Was Your Day?’ reveals a struggling relationship through fragments of conversations; at odds with the warm tone of the track. “You said ‘I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore’ / We let our patterns of bad behaviours take over / I’m no longer keeping score.” ‘Restricted Account’ follows with a cacophony of melancholic piano notes and reverberated flugelhorn – courtesy of Jack Gaby and Julia Wallace respectively – before fading out to ‘Underwater’, Donnelly’s poignant lyrics tackling domestic abuse with sensitivity and understanding. “They say it takes a person seven tries to leave it / I can remember at least five.”
From the dreamy, brass-laden ‘Medals’, the piano-centric ballad ‘Move Me’, to the sweet sing-song melody of title track ‘Flood’, Donnelly’s soft vocals deliver astute observations over an expansive sound; tracks that rhythmically and thematically ebb and flow. ‘This Week’ ruminates on mental health, celebrating small moments of relief through self-care. “I know, not to get my hopes up / but I feel better.” But it’s the deeply personal, melancholic elegy, ‘Oh My My My’, that sees the Australian artist at her most vulnerable; grieving the loss of her grandmother.
The painfully literal ‘Morning Silence’ laments the generational “same old fight” of sexual and physical assault, before closing track ‘Cold’ finds Donnelly exploring Dolores O’Riordan-esque harmonies over a piano-led ethereal soundscape until the final cathartic chant: “You are not big enough for my love.” Like its predecessor, Flood engages its listeners with meaningful, empathetic storytelling and dry wit; the end result being a poignant soundtrack to the last days of summer when reality settles in.
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