Stella Donnelly stands out among the current crop of singer-songwriters who lean toward a confessional, melancholic mode of indie rock, specifically through her unique vocal inflections, knack for crafting catchy and clever hooks, and vivid, unflinching lyrical portraits. With its glistening keys and synthesizers, “Lungs,” the opening track from the Aussie musician’s second studio album, Flood, signals a slight shift in approach, as the songs here depart from the guitar-driven indie rock of 2019’s Beware of the Dogs.
Flood doesn’t lack for tracks whose bounciness masks Donnelly’s barbed lyrics. Just barely containing her disdain, she delivers her verses on “How Was Your Day?” in a cool and collected manner that recalls Patti Smith. And on “Cold,” which is more downbeat but features a skittering drumbeat and lovely piano melody, she takes on a romantic partner who weaves “war from the words I told you” and isn’t “big enough for my love.” These last lines aren’t sung but chanted, as Donnelly layers her voice in a final declaration of self-worth and self-love.
Elsewhere, “Morning Silence” stands out for its searing lyrical depiction of how trauma can live on within survivors and is passed down to others, while “This Week” ruminates on the difficulty and ephemerality of improving one’s mental health—how what’s necessary to “feel better” can often change from day to day. The latter song features the album’s most skeletal arrangement, with Donnelly’s voice accompanied by little more than drums and faint swells of keys that disappear into the ether as quickly as they appear.
A significant portion of Flood is composed of piano-centric ballads that range in quality but are similar in mood and tempo. Songs like “Restricted Account,” “Move Me,” and the title track burn slowly and softly, and though the added space in these arrangements allows Donnelly’s voice to really soar, they don’t leave much impression in and of themselves. And while the lyrics admirably tackle topics like abandonment, anxiety, and abuse, they lack the vivid detail and idiosyncratic humor that made many of the songs on Beware of the Dogs so memorable.
Still, Flood sees Donnelly stretching into new sonic territory and refining the at times jagged indie rock of her promising debut. While there aren’t any songs here as immediate or infectious as “Tricks” or “Lunch,” or ones as lyrically potent as “Mosquito,” Donnelly’s growth as a musician reveals her to be more versatile than her past releases let on.