8th December, 2022
Critiquing Albums Like I Could Make Anything Better: Flood by Stella Donnelly

Critiquing Albums Like I Could Make Anything Better: Flood by Stella Donnelly

This entry is part 16 of 16 in the series:
Critiquing Albums Like I Could Make Anything Better

Stella Donnelly has an unmistakable talent for writing music that speaks candidly about social issues with a bubbly but nonetheless furious disposition. Anyone who’s seen her perform can attest to her friendly and playful allure. The humorously cynical indie-pop singer from Western Australia made a name for herself with the 2019 release of her debut ‘Beware Of The Dogs’. This year, Donnelly returns to a post-pandemic musical landscape with ‘Flood’, an album undeniably as poignant and articulate as her first, but with an element of introspection that renders some tracks absolutely heartbreaking.

1. Lungs

This track was the first single released from this album, and as the first track on the album, it serves as a fantastic tone-setter. It’s noticeably one of the more energetic tracks on the album, written as a fun song to be performed live post-lockdown. Having seen her play it back in May, I can confirm it’s rather energetic in person. I think it’s the most similar to tracks like “You Owe Me” on the last record, following Stella’s affinity for sticking it to the man (whoever said the man is, in this case, seemingly the landlord).

Stretching out the leather on your wallet
That my lungs are filling up
Long live the asbestos on the rental
Yeah, it looks alright to me

2. How Was Your Day?

This song is one of the more lighthearted ones. It’s written brilliantly to depict a dynamic between a couple struggling to communicate during a lockdown. The verses are written as a dialogue between the couple. I think conceptually, this song style is hard to pull off, but she sure did pull it off. I think it’s very clever as an exercise in storytelling.

A polite conversation about unclaimed mail
Felt like a deadly lit candle left up in a room
An old piece of currency for a dollar at the open market
You had the best car in thе street, but there was nowherе to park it
You said, “I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore”
We let our patterns and bad behaviours take over
I’m no longer keeping score, levelheadedness has made way for a disastrous love
I know it, you know it!

3. Restricted Account

This is one of my favourites. It’s gentle and interesting. The outro drowns out Stella’s voice in a way that reminds me of Phoebe Bridger’s Punisher record. The flugelhorn and gentle guitar, and piano really create the perfect atmosphere.

Leave it like lovers on the beach
Take me for granted, take me on
I know the right way
Always be honest to your face
Proudly protecting my own girl
Crack in the system
Dead was the night they took us
I’ll be the next one and the last

4. Underwater

I love how stripped back this song is, almost entirely piano and voice – it lets the incredible lyrics take precedence while Stella sings about looking back on an abusive relationship.

I did an ambassadorship for a women and children’s refuge for domestic violence situations. I met with some of the residents and the most profound statistic I came away with was the fact that, on average, it takes seven attempts to leave a situation of coercion or any sort of abuse. It takes seven attempts before they are successful in leaving. So, I looked back at a particular relationship I’d been in, and I just wanted to kind of say a final fuck-you to that person and try and just kind of process that time in my life.

Stella Donnelly via Apple Music

Turn my head in time to see you try and take it
But the sun shone through my eyes
Took a year off everything to scrub it off me
Now I forget you all the time

5. Medals

This is one of my favourite songs from this album. It’s kind of picking on people who peaked in high school. It’s lighthearted and funny, and its production is probably some of her cleanest and most interesting. The very 70’s outro to the song is the best part, in my humble opinion

You’ve got a lot of medals
For someone who is losing
You’ve got a lot of trophies
They call it moral bruising
You’re wearing all your ribbons
And yelling at the TV
You’re scaring all your housemates
With your monologuing

6. Move Me

I really love how upbeat this is for such a complex topic. Again, the lyrics in this song are just mindblowing in how simple and eloquently they depict such a complicated feeling. Production wise it almost has a Beatles kind of feel to it.

“Move Me” is a love song written to my mum, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago. It’s kind of written from my child self, like, I’m almost having a bit of a tantrum about it. But I wanted it to feel like it was quite free—people don’t always realize that it’s the years before you get a diagnosis that are the hardest. So, in a way, it’s almost like this celebration of mum being able to finally get the treatment she needs and find her way to live now with this thing.

Stella Donnelly via Apple Music

You were always clumsy in a good way
Now it’s turned to something we all fear
I just want to take the perfect photo
So that I can show you what I mean
When I say you look like Uma Thurman
When she was in Mad Dog and Glory

7. Flood

The title track is particularly comforting, and Stella wrote it intending to depict the sad but warm reality of life in Melbourne in lockdown. The backing vocals are sweet.

I wrote this song in Melbourne. We were stuck in a six-month lockdown here, and I wanted to write a song that was kind of at the pace of walking, to capture the feeling of that one hour that we were allowed outside to exercise each day. I didn’t want to capture the feeling of being stuck at home, but I also still wanted to capture what it was like and the sadness that was around. So, it was this sad little adventure that I wanted to create. My representation of the feeling of lockdown, which was kind of warm but sad.

—via Apple Music
8. This Week

This is also a very comforting song. It’s slow-paced and reassuring, and the production is gently optimistic. It feels like the moment after a tough time, you go, ‘wait, I’m okay’.

This week I am saying all the right things
Being a sister to my siblings
Going to sleep without the light on
Taking a safe way to get home

9. Oh My My My

This one is sad. It’s also very cool, though. Stella’s vocal control on this one is impressive, and the song feels very personal but still accessible.

Found your camera
Blurry existence
Took a village
Watched my dad cry

I wrote this song about my grandmother, and so, in a way, that old-time feeling, that sort of gothic sound is feeling that forlorn, almost morbid sadness. I wanted to write a little homage to her and the feeling around when you lose someone that you love so much. 

Stella Donnelly via Apple Music
10. Morning Silence

I really like this. It’s a relatively gentle approach to an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness, and it’s a groundhog day feeling and a nod to the exhaustion of self-preservation that many women feel.

I wish my front door was always open
I wish the dog didn’t bark at men who came in
Is it a pipe dream to want my children
Never to wake up and hear a woman screaming
Wish I could water it down for you but
My mouth is dry from thinking about it

It’s a bit of a nod back to my EP [2017’s Thrush Metal] in a way. I really wanted it to be rough in its production—simple and capturing the feeling of hopelessness in the world and how I was feeling. It’s like a sequel to “Underwater” in a way, but a far less hopeful one in some senses. I just wanted to have that little moment to say what I need to say and then have it over with, and not make it too big in its delivery.

Stella Donnelly via Apple Music
11. Cold

I really like the drums and backing vocals on this, and it’s very energetic for something that almost resembles a piano ballad. Lyrically, she’s done a fantastic job pinning down different scenarios to depict the relationship the song is about.

Pinch me underwater and kiss me on the surface
Your family watches on
I’ll always be yours to blame
I drag you through the weekеnd
To wait and wait and wait

It was such a fun song to make. It’s about an old argument with someone. It’s just me trying to get the last word on it and just capturing that time, how fraught our relationship was. I’ve just always wanted to write a big song, and so that was my attempt.

Stella Donnelly via Apple Music
Track Ranking:
  1. Restricted Account
  2. Morning Silence
  3. Medals
  4. Cold
  5. This Week
  6. How Was Your Day?
  7. Move Me
  8. Lungs
  9. Oh My My My
  10. Underwater
  11. Flood

Stellar Album, Stella.

Tyneesha Williams

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