Black Heart Mantra EP Album Review
The Cheek of Her
  • 3/5
Reviewed by Jen Dan

The Cheek of Her, AKA Londoner Helen Dooley, releases a new EP filled with incisive lyrics and her bold vocal style.

The Cheek of Her is the alter ego of one Helen Dooley, a singer-songwriter from London who compellingly contrasts the shadows with the light on her indie pop/indie rock music and lyrics.  Dooley also plays the piano and is accompanied by Sean Kennedy on guitars, bass, and strings and Chris Hardwick on drums.  Kennedy, who has been a long-time collaborator of Dooley’s, also produced, mixed, and mastered The Cheek of Her’s latest EP, Black Heart Mantra, which comes out May 2nd.

The songwriting, compositional, and vocal aspects of The Cheek of Her’s music is all Dooley, from her incisive lyrics and infectious melodies to her robust vocals and raw power.  Dooley has previously released two EPs, a debut album, and a string of singles.  Her latest single “9 Lives” is the opening number of Black Heart Mantra.  In the great tradition of Polly Jean Harvey and Amanda Palmer, Dooley’s sweet-sour vocals strike an immediate chord, sharply vibrating in the spotlight.  Backing vocals and sweeping piano notes and strings follow her swooping vocals as she vibrantly declares with keen British enunciation “…in another life / I’d give more than I’d fight / How I would love to meet you there.”

“Give Up The Ghost” is another piano-based number that pushes along with Dooley’s strong, sometimes doubled vocals.  She sing-talks and wails in a theatrically wry tone about breaking off a dysfunctional relationship as the cymbals and spare drums tap and crash about her.  Dooley tackles the divide between being a housewife and having a music career on “The Future Is Purple”, sardonically bemoaning the fact she’s “Running around in circles / Not getting anywhere.”  The main question that hangs over the song, and which isn’t answered, is if one path has to be sacrificed for the other.

More ‘big life questions’ crop up on the colorful “YOLO” as Dooley expressively tap dances through her words, contemplating that she wants to “live loud”, but that the person she’s with is continually procrastinating and worrying “What the hell will the future bring?”  A dynamic blend of springing piano notes, sporadically pulled strings, cymbal shimmer, rap-style male vocals, and slapped drum beat run through the tune.  Dooley’s dramatically voiced, but many-a-time emotionally cool, delivery wears a bit thin after a while, but she does grab attention with the EP-ender “Black Heart Mantra”.  She sounds at her most heartfelt here, twisting around her words that are tinged with regret, crying out “Don’t play with my heart / This heart of mine.”  While Dooley’s lyrics are full of intimate and powerful observations and sentiments, they don’t always totally mesh with her bold, stage-ready vocal style on Black Heart Mantra.

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