Music Reviews

Stella Donnelly Flood

(Secretly Canadian) Rating - 8/10

Horns and pianos and synths, oh my. Not that all of these instruments were completely devoid on Stella Donnelly’s debut (Beware of the Dogs), but bringing a variety of sounds to the forefront makes for a more appealing overall effort on her sophomore release. Donnelly also goes from broader lyrical swipes to more poetically nuanced takedowns. The opening track, Lungs, evidences the full range of Flood’s improvements. With a thumpy drum beat and synths running at cross purposes, a sprinkling of piano elevates the song to having something of a softer touch that belies the childhood ire directed at her family’s landlord.

Lungs gives way to the blissed-out rush of the partly spoken word pop of How Was Your Day, a testament to how her deepest secrets and most anthemic moments become the album’s best. The stripped-down piano balladry of Underwater provides an utterly devastating landscape for the burial of an abusive relationship. The repeated lyric, “I take on your anger and hurt, Oh mama it’s getting worse,” shows Donnelly at her rawest. But the appropriately titled closer, Cold, is chill-inducing in Donnelly’s resolve to rise above it all. Donnelly literally pounds out the song on the keys while declaring her independence (“Afraid of those you can’t control, I might just float right through your walls”) before concluding in a shouted affirmation: “You are not, big enough, for my love.” Cold carries the same cinemascope sweep of Richard Hawley’s Tonight the Streets are Ours, but as a statement of individuality rather than solidarity. 

Elsewhere, subtle hooks elevate Donnelly’s compositions to a higher plane. The reverse loops of Restricted Account give way to Julia Wallace’s understated fluegelhorn riff, while the tidy drum and bass hook of the punchy Move Me recalls the perfect pop of Alvvays. Donnelly’s ability to pull off a line as wordy as “When I say you look like Uma Thurman / when she was in Mad Dog and Glory” brings a smile to the face. The album does have a few drearier moments in Medals and Oh My My My that float by hardly noticed. But overall, Flood is a musical and lyrical leap forward that delivers a multitude of rewards. That it ends in Donnelly’s strongest composition to date makes for literal icing on the cake.