The Buffalo-based band formerly known as “Wolf” is back with a new line up, a new name, and a brand new self-titled EP – fans will be familiar with front woman Chelsea O’Donnell’s unique and powerful vocals that lead the newly re-formed Stress Dolls. Her confident energy and cadence are reminiscent of Amanda Palmer but with a punk rock edge not unlike Sleater Kinney. Brian Silinski on lead guitar and TJ Luckman on bass provide a very guitar-forward sound that is a unique balance of hard rocking without being aggressive. Madison Rich lays down a solid beat, building a foundation for the quartet that is anything but tentative.
Stress Dolls’ self titled EP begins on a bit of a funky note with the track “Crazy.” The groove of the bass line sets a solid tone that contrasts with strong power chords and O’Donnell’s vocals. Track two, “Pills,” is the first single from the band. This one hits the ground running with a forceful lead guitar and grungy rhythm guitar. The subject matter of the song is also refreshing - O’Donnell and the band do not shy away from raw honesty in their lyrics. “Pills” is an interesting and frank discussion of mental health, the frustrations of its treatment, and the stigmas attached to these issues. What is striking to me about O’Donnell’s writing is its juxtaposition of prose and poetry - she has an ability to write in a manner that is simultaneously raw and refined. “I can’t change what I am, it’s in my binding / a knot that comes apart always unwinding / a short and selfish path leads to dead ends beyond that greed.”
“Swollen,” the third track off the Stress Dolls’ EP, is perhaps the most relaxed and melancholy of the release. It sits back a bit more than the others while maintaining the band’s hard-rocking vibe. O’Donnell shows a bit more vulnerability in this track, her vocals lending almost a crying quality as the song builds in intensity. Finishing strong with “Curves and Edges,” the band proves its ability to go to a softer, more transparent place - until they turn around and deliver a dynamic punch of witticism and strong riffs. In contrast with the track’s ballad-like opening, O’Donnell leaves listeners with her raspy, scream-like proclamation: “You didn’t want it, but you got it, so guess what? You gotta deal with it.” A poignant comment for the times, maybe?
The EP as a whole has a dark tone defined by clever lyricism and the band’s assertive but rich instrumental sound. Stress Dolls’ truly unique sound is difficult to place into a neatly packaged genre; it’s rock with a punk persuasion, containing pop-like elements and provocative lyrics. It’s as if the angry music I listened to in high school grew up, matured, and started listening to NPR.
4. Curves and Edges
Stress Dolls- Crazy (Official Video)