Socially conscious indie pop
On her debut album, Beware of the Dogs, Stella Donnelly blends charming, catchy melodies with lyrics that are intermittently bitter, sarcastic and sorrowful. Always maintaining a sense of humor in her writing, Donnelly nonetheless broaches some weighty topics. Many of these topics are relevant to current conversations about the shortcomings of modern society. Many of Beware of the Dogs’ most vitriolic moments are delivered in a package of deceptively bright indie pop.
Musically, the album remains on some of the indie genre’s most well-trodden ground; the crisp, chiming guitar hooks and affected nonchalance of the conversational vocals will sound familiar to anyone who has ever been inside an overpriced coffee shop. Though Donnelly’s style is predictable, lacking a sense of exploration, the songs are nonetheless satisfactory in a basic sense. Furthermore, it is doubtful that she set out to break new ground musically and probably intended for her writing—which is often witty and inspired—to be the main focus of the album.
Beware of the Dogs has a strong sense of thematic unity. Donnelly adopts a tone that is equal parts contemptuous, playful and intelligent to discuss the experiences of women in the modern world. The result often reflects prominent issues of the current social climate—several songs on the album could be #MeToo anthems—but also uses an empathetic approach to take individual experience into account.
The album’s first single (originally released in 2017), “Boys Will Be Boys,” is one of its most memorable moments. Donnelly sings about sexual assault through the experiences of a friend who felt personally responsible after being violated. Donnelly concludes that this was the work of a society that protects the perpetrators of sexual violence, and the song serves as both a lament for those who have been harmed and an angry indictment of the social structures that fail to support them.
Other highlights include the opener, “Old Man”—thematically similar to “Boys Will Be Boys” but shifting the focus to sarcastically lambasting insensitive men—and “Tricks,” which explores the feeling of being used by a partner in an unequal relationship. The other tracks follow the same pattern, as Donnelly expounds upon her thoughts on these subjects.
Throughout Beware of the Dogs, Donnelly maintains a consistent and self-assured personality, completely free of internal complications or contradictions; all her problems seem to lie outside of the self. Anyone looking for music that provides effective and timely social commentary will be satisfied.