Ellie Goulding – Halcyon (Album Review)

Posted by on October 9, 2012


Over the past three years, Ellie Goulding has achieved an extraordinary level of fame and recognition, even as she has maintained a foothold outside of the full-bore pop mainstream. Sure, it’s basically impossible to listen top 40 radio these days without hearing the synthy intro to the belatedly popular “Lights,” but there remains something sufficiently quirky and offbeat about Ellie — her distinctively elfin timber, perhaps, or her often dark arrangements, or her affinity for unlikely (but uncanny) melodies, or the fact that she’s the undisputed remix darling of the underground. In other words, she’s managed to steer clear of Carly Rae territory, even as she has built an increasingly high profile for herself.

In Halcyon, the British songstress may be playing for the now-considerable audience who will purchase her material by default, but it is clear that the album is first and foremost the fulfillment of an intensely personal and specific vision. Accordingly, there are moments of sheer, sparkling brilliance — and also a few misfires. The overall vibe is haunting, gothic, and at times ragged, ranging from heavy and driving to delicate and stripped down, but never do we lose sight of the looming emotional matter that served as Ellie’s inspiration. And this is where the album falters — certain tracks simply begin to feel roundabout or redundant, especially as we move through the ballad-heavy second half, where Halcyon starts to seem like a synthed-up 21 with slightly less lyrical depth.

But when Ellie shines, she truly shines. The jangly (if rather abstruse) “Anything Could Happen,” released well in advance of the album, is a fresh and unlikely anthem. “My Blood” is a bona fide showstopper — Ellie’s birdlike voice is simultaneously fragile and powerful, undergirded by a thumping bassline and carrying us through a terrifically stratospheric chorus that will give just about any music fan chills. The dubsteppy “Figure 8,” produced by recent OWSLA signees MONSTA, exists at the catchiest possible intersection of electronic music and pop. The ethereal and slightly more upbeat “Atlantis” is beautifully (and eerily) arranged. And Calvin Harris brings his user-friendly dance cred to “I Need Your Love,” coming soon to every single fratty bar near you. In all, Ellie may have moved in a more self consciously artistic direction on Halcyon, but her ability to weave catchy, interesting melodies with lush electronic arrangements is as on display as ever.

Rating: 3.5/5

Note: Bonus track “Stay Awake,” produced by Madeon, is only available on physical editions purchased at Tesco in the UK. Check it out here.

iTunes: Ellie Goulding – Halcyon

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