Ellie Goulding Adopts a Darker Persona with "Halcyon": Recent Albums: a Music Review Column

Posted by Eli Cohen

Released on Oct. 8, Ellie Goulding's Halcyon is a darker, nearly tragic departure from her previous image. Despite its success as a sophomore album, it only hits one or two emotional notes, and therein lies its downfall.

Ellie Goulding reached pop music stardom in 2010 with the release of her debut Lights. The album boasted three singles ("Starry Eyed", "Guns and Horses" and "The Writer") that all landed in the Top 30 on the Billboard charts. A year later, the title track completed a long journey up the charts to rest firmly at number two.

With its bubbly instrumentation and Goulding's superb vocals, the song has remained a favorite with radio stations. The album was a solid one, but it stopped short of being a really good album.

Enter Halcyon-like her musical Bat Mitzvah, Halcyon celebrates Goulding reaching musical adulthood. There is a maturity and poise on this album that puts her in a league with fellow powerhouses Adele and Florence Welch. Goulding's voice is strong and confident, spiraling upward and sliding back down in her haunting soprano as she nearly weeps her lyrics into the mic.

Two true masterpieces emerge from this album. First is the opening song, "Don't Say A Word," which slowly eases listeners into the unusual, captivating record. This song is a perfect microcosm of the album-part R&B, part electronica, part ballad and part Phil Collins-rock. It manages to be an anthem while being haunting and powerful.

Halcyon'ssecond gemis the album's first single, "Anything Could Happen." This Florence-ish epic could easily emerge as one of the best songs of the year. Here, Goulding's voice is stronger than anywhere else on the album, layering and looping over itself, intertwining and creating something truly special. Currently number five on the UK charts, it sits just behind Adele's "Skyfall," "Gangnam Style" and "Diamonds" from R&B queen Rihanna.

The album's second single, "I Know You Care," is another highlight. Slow, beautiful and acoustic, this song has simpler lyrics but more complex emotions, and is overwhelmingly sorrowful. With this song, Goulding once again reaches out across genres and proves herself as one of the most versatile new artists on the pop music scene.

Halcyon's problem is its second half, starting after "Figure 8." While the following songs are still good (some even arguably great, like "Explosions"), most if not all of them lack the power that the earlier songs convey. Her cover of Active Child's "Hanging On" is interesting without being compelling, and the dubstep breakdown seems forced (though she might just be trying to impress her EDM boo Skrillex.         

Halcyon hints at much deeper subject matter, but gets weighed down by its own moroseness in the end. Still, there are definite hints of greatness. 25 year-old Goulding is definitely an artist to watch. She's on the right track to reach (and possibly surpass) Florence Welsh and maybe even Adele. She's not there yet, but she's getting ready.

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