Stella Donnelly – ‘Flood’ review: sharp, sensitive tales from a masterful storyteller

The Fremantle singer-songwriter opens up her process and reaps the rewards on a beautiful, thought-provoking second album

Stella Donnelly has always had a knack for storytelling. It’s part of what made her 2019 debut album ‘Beware Of The Dogs’ so beguiling – her songs taking you right into the heart of the scenes she was describing, from the bleak Fremantle pub she used to pour pints in to tense Christmas parties. Her second record ‘Flood’ shows those skills have been sharpened and refined, her tales more evocative and emotionally rich than ever before.

Some of the narratives that fill her new album come from the personal experiences she’s collected. ‘How Was Your Day?’, full of jaunty piano and guitar, pieces together fragments of conversations she heard between couples during lockdown. “A polite conversation about unclaimed mail / Felt like a deadly lit candle left up in a room,” Donnelly recounts in breezy spoken word that’s at odds with the drama in her lines.

‘Oh My My My’ details the end of another relationship – at least in its physical form. The melancholy elegy captures the songwriter’s grief after the death of her grandmother with graceful beauty. “I should have known yesterday / Waved as your world danced out the door,” she sings at one point, heavy piano chords dropping like steady tears beneath.

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Her music might always have been rooted in the things happening in her own life, but Donnelly has never shied away from drawing our attention to the world’s bigger picture, too. She does that on ‘Flood’ with the post-punk groove of ‘Lungs’ – a song about classism, shared from the point of view of a child whose family has just been evicted – and ‘Underwater’, which sensitively tackles domestic abuse. The latter is poignant and powerful, the way it dips and swells through layers of simple piano, glacial guitar and a chorus of poised hums pointing the way through despair, hope and more.

On ‘Beware Of The Dogs’, Donnelly made her name with humorous, guitar-led indie-pop. Three years later, ‘Flood’ finds her still funny (just more subtly so), largely swapping six strings for piano keys, and opening herself up to collaboration. The results – whether the brass-laden ‘Medals’ or ‘This Week’, in which she conjures the vocal character of Björk and Caroline Polachek – are beautiful. These are soft, lush pieces that deep-dive into life’s everyday moments and turn them into something extraordinary.

Details

Stella Donnelly Flood review

  • Label: Secretly Canadian
  • Release date: August 26, 2022
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