Test Spins: Ellie Goulding, Halcyon

October 11, 2012 12:00 am0 comments
Yana Lysenko

The British invasion has returned, and it’s brought a new wave of pop with it. Among these artists is Ellie Goulding, a 25-year-old from England with a strong voice and even greater drive. With the sudden explosion of “Lights,” the title track of her debut album, Goulding has been propelled into the musical spotlight as a household name among pop-lovers. They won’t be disappointed with the singer’s new album, Halcyon. Although the album sometimes falls short with its over-synthesized accompaniment, Goulding’s unique vocals and powerful writing make Halcyon a decent effort.
The first thing one notices about Halycon is its dynamism. Goulding has undoubtedly channeled Florence & the Machine in this album, with dramatic, all-encompassing choruses and soaring vocals. “Hanging On” is a perfect example of this, even featuring the harp à la Florence. In this way, Goulding challenges the musical styles so preferred by the industry today. Whereas Lights was enjoyed particularly for its poppy audio, Halcyon offers a more engaging version of pop.Goulding’s voice really shines in Halcyon. From soft, haunting croons to powerful choral harmonies, the singer’s range is greater than that of Lights. Despite experimentation, Goulding still maintains her trademark folk vocals, reminiscent to those of folk artist Laura Marling. Sometimes, however, her vocal style seems out of place, and one wonders if perhaps she would be better suited to something outside the realm of pop. The overproduced sound is frequently distracting and fails to enhance Goulding’s unique vocal talents.
Lyrically, Halcyon features several moments of profundity, particularly in tracks like “JOY” and “Dead in the Water.” With all of the excessive synths and vague lyrics, it’s easy to ignore the album’s overarching theme of breakup pain. “The lost dreams I buried in my sleep for him / and this was the ecstasy of love forgotten,” sings Goulding in “My Blood.” The singer certainly tries to present herself as a serious songwriter in Halcyon. The result is an album with more lyrical substance than Lights, but at times the lyrics are too vague to feel personal. If Goulding’s goal was to make an album of emotional depth, it is sometimes lost in her attempts to be poetic.
While Halcyon features a selection of impressive tracks, there are several disappointments. The album’s first single, “Anything Could Happen,” does nothing to enhance first impressions of the album. In fact, it is one of the album’s weakest, lacking the infectiousness of “Lights” and the lyrical depth of Halcyon’s other tracks. The single portrays Halcyon as weaker than it is, and seems to exist only to compete for the narrow requirements of mainstream pop success.Other tracks, such as “Don’t Say a Word” and “Figure 8” are stylistically reminiscent of “Lights”. Overproduced and simple, they feel out of place and detract from Halcyon’s more powerful tracks. The album also features a collaboration between Goulding and D.J. Calvin Harris in “I Need Your Love.” The track is catchy but does not live up to the ambition of the rest of the album. These tracks may guarantee Goulding commercial success, but they are disappointing additions to the vocal and musical experimentation of Halcyon’s other tracks.
Overall, Halcyon offers an intriguing, eclectic mix of pop styles and shows a more mature side of Goulding and her musical capabilities. The album occasionally struggles lyrically with its attempts at poeticism and comes across as too ambitious in some tracks. Other tracks feel lazy and simple, contradicting Goulding’s attempts at evolution as an artist. Nevertheless, Goulding has successfully avoided the sophomore slump with Halcyon, proving she has some impressive musical talent and a great deal of potential.

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