Ellie Goulding has had quite a peculiar rise in the American musical landscape. Although being fairly successful in the UK, she never fully caught on stateside. Her debut album Lights, released in 2010, debuted at number 1 in the UK and went on to sell 850,000 copies. Now, two years later she has scored a Top 40 hit in America with that album’s title track, “Lights,” right as she was gearing up for the release of her sophomore album, Halcyon. The perfect timing and way for Goulding to segue way her newfound success into reaching a wider audience this side of the pond.
Her sophomore record, Halcyon, is an ethereal mix of angelic vocals and tribal sounds. Whereas Lights was an electronic-oriented and hook heavy album, Halcyon finds Goulding exploring a more grandiose musical soundscape. The album incorporates much more earthly-bound instruments like pianos and drums, while layering Goulding’s signature airy vocals, creating a striking, sometimes haunting effect.
Overall, Halcyon has a somber tone throughout, perfect for a listen on a rainy day. Goulding has said that she considers it to be “quite a sad album. But then the songs that are joyous are so joyous. And it’s such a beautiful world.” I wouldn’t have been able to construct a more perfect explanation for the journey Halcyon takes you on. From the first track, “Don’t Say A Word,” we hear Goulding‘s voice floating into our consciousness, as if out of a dream. “My Blood” has a very Florence + the Machine feel, mostly due to the stronger emphasis on the aforementioned drums and piano, while Goulding whimsically recounts the blood she lost for someone is particular.
First single, “Anything Could Happen,” is an example of one of those joyous moments Goulding mentioned. The song feels like an anthem of survival; you can hear the conviction in her voice as she repeats the chorus. “Only You” loops a snippet of vocals as the basis for the beat, creating an immediately catchy and infectious pop jam while Goulding croons for the only person who truly understands her. On the title track, “Halcyon,” her voice mates gorgeously with electronics, swirling around itself, an obvious standout. Buzz single “Hanging On” alternates between tender electronica and massive bright explosions of drums in its infectious chorus. The song is still one I keep replaying long after the first listen.
Lyrically, as a whole, I couldn’t get passed how emotional the songs felt. Halcyon ends with a track entitled “Dead in the Water,” which I think most people would consider an odd way to say farewell. Goulding has said “Loneliness has been the biggest influence on this record; I feel like what I do is lonely.” Many of the songs are of longing for someone, or of finally getting over needing someone, or just being a bit lost in general. Tracks “Joy,” “Explosions,” “Atlantis,” and “I Know You Care” all appear on the second half of the album and set a quieter, more reflective tone.
Overall, I found myself going back to re-listen to the album long after I had finished. Although it is not any loud announcement of pop bravo, I feel Halycon is the perfection progression for Ellie Goulding, as she continues to carve out her own niche in music. Her lyrics are true to her and reflect a very crazy and hectic two years since the release of Lights. The sound is uniquely Ellie and sees her growing and exploring new avenues while adding even more sophistication and depth to the original sound found on Bright Lights. It may be easy to dismiss her dreamy pop-electronic sound as a fad, but I truly believe Ellie Goulding will be here to stay for quite some time. Things could get even more interesting. 4/5
– Amanda ‘Bergz’ Berghorn -