Hello Dollface’s new self-released record, Warrior of Light, takes its name from the inspirational writings of Paulo Coelho. It shares similar thematic material, talking of finding one’s authentic self and embracing life, but rarely rises above a foggy blandness.
Singer-lyricist Ashley Edwards has a thick, appealing voice with just enough grit coloring its burnished shine. The trouble is there isn’t one lick on Warrior of Light we haven’t heard elsewhere on stronger material. “Intuition” features an infectious drum part by Alex Morrow that’s a fine showcase for a melody pitched right between early ‘00s neo-soul and Grace Potter, but that anthemic swoop appears again and again. The title track sketches out a tired aquatic metaphor about floating hope and hungry tides and letting your secrets go. Edwards’ voice leaps up, but never soars quite high enough. “Pieces” adds drama with slashing strings and a whispered vocal that would have been nice to hear more of, but ends up indistinguishable from the rest of the material before it’s done.
The highlights here take the often-trod material and spin it just enough to stand out like glowing windows on a dusty, deserted street. “Face It” has a gripping tension, and the sexy interrogation in Edwards voice and a grimy duel of her guitar and Easton Stuard’s keys leaves a mark. “Wake Up” is like the positivity messages that grow tiresome elsewhere, but is in vibrant technicolor here. There’s a very ’90s syncopation as her tongue slides across, “Do you wonder, ‘Am I wasting, am I safely wasting all my time?’ Gone in the morning, never see the sunset, doesn’t feel right,” but it swings nonetheless. The tightly coiled arrangement and lush backing vocals make the exhortations to wake up feel like being shaken by the throat no matter how many times those words have been delivered.
The elements are all there, but Hello Dollface’s pristine sound works against its striving for soulfulness. With the paucity of hooks and the repetitious melodies, the clean cadence blends everything together, making it all feel even more static.