Eric Schackne

REVIEW: Ellie Goulding – ‘Halcyon’

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Ellie Goulding.  Her first US single, “Lights” showed some of the most persistence ever, embarking on a 33-week climb to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100.  Maybe you’ve heard “Anything Could Happen,” the single off her latest record, Halcyon, maybe not, but you’re in for a treat if you save this album the 30-week trip to the top and listen right now with me.  C’mon.

Primal moans, tribal beats, phasing vocals.  There’s a breathiness to Ellie Goulding’s vocal presence that draws you into the noise.  I could see this opening track “Don’t Say A Word” being a Florence + the Machine song.  Despite the intensity of the track, Ellie’s voice is always delicately delivered.

Bringing it down for the second song, “My Blood” contains some of the sweetest and darkest tones of the album.  There’s a head-bobbing groove that lifts the chorus up pretty high.  Usually I’m more likely to go for the organic sounds of a rock band, but there’s an undeniable pop aesthetic that makes Goulding’s music palatable; enjoyable even.  The marching bounce of a piano and “Anything Could Happen” swoops in to keep you moving.  With a suggestive and dance-y pulse, the repetition of the title lyrics swing you into a playground of echoes and bright synth construction.  Little Ellie Goulding comes out of her shell with a killer breakdown that shows just how much she can wail through her uniquely soft grit.

A Fatboy Slim-esque vocal loop kicks off track four.  “Only You” is a sexy-feeling song, and not just for the enticing and not-so-subtle repeat of lyrics like “baby I’m on my knees.”  This is one of my stand-out favorites thus far, mostly because I’ve never heard anything like it really.  There’s such a  blend of styles here; I even hear some throwback tones of 80’s and 90’s pop music.

Title track, “Halcyon” has another subdued intro.  Bringing the listener in close before exploding into the dance party proves to be a really interesting tool for pop production in this dance track.  Even “Figure 8” feels like a ballad, but eventually combusts with a dub-step-coated bassline.  This song is equally as sexy as “Only You,” for the most part, and another album favorite.

Everything dissolves to a modest arrangement as Goulding and a piano oximoronically resound “JOY” (in all caps) very calmly.  You know, that kind of joy you get where you can’t help but sit and play a piano real soft-like.  You’re just so filled-to-the-brim with happiness you need to sing a very quiet song, PRONTO.  I jest, but this song is great and eventually builds into an anthemic and aptly positive tune.

Sex is the go-to for Halcyon apparently, because “Hanging On” gets, shall we say, specific.  This is apparently an edited version, and – for the record – I’m glad that “touch me in a dirty way” made its way past the sensors.

I’m a big free-form thinker when it comes to art and music, specifically the marriage between song structure and song meaning.  The pre-chorus in the climactic “Explosions” rolls around and around with a churning melody that almost winds you up for the(pun intended) explosive chorus.  This song has a tick-tick-boom-type feel to it overall which adds that extra layer for me.

Little known fact: I love the piano.  So, you know I’m loving “I Know You Care.”  When it’s just a singer and an instrument, you have two choices of what to listen to: voice or piano.  Once she gets into this story of nostalgia, compassion, and heartache I’m convinced this will help numerous amounts of 16-year old girls to get over their stupid ex-boyfriends to the sound of an empowering Ellie Gouling and her piano.

Like a dream, “Atlantis” swings around and around.  For some reason, this makes me think of a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubeman…at least this makes me want to dance like that.  And, with what feels like a closing track, “Dead in the Water” eases along nice and slow, building with each new part.  This is epic and it’s barely even trying.

Halcyon also has two other tracks, a collaboration with Calvin Harris and an additional bonus version of  her (smash?) hit, “Lights.”  The Calvin Harris song is interesting, and the most genre-specific of the record.  The house beat is persistent, and while I dig the production on the beat, it’s more like a b-side in my opinion.  The alternate version of “Lights” is more electro-rock than the rest of her catalog.  I ususally prefer that bonus tracks are a little more exciting.  No sweat though, because Ellie Goulding already delivered 13 stellar tracks capturing great dynamics and our hearts along the way.  Halcyon should prove  to keep her career afloat, seeing as she’s the poster child for what’s happening to music around the world; electronic-infused and gorgeous.


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