A progression from her critically acclaimed 2010 debut Lights, Halcyon expresses a concealed element unheard of in Ellie Goulding’s previous work. Earlier this year the young spark promised, ‘a darker, more emotional record’ and has delivered on point; the artwork itself shows a new confidence and edge to the once sweet and shy songbird. An array of producers are involved in this development and the quality is immensely satisfying; Starsmith (Lady GaGa), Mike Spencer (Jamiroquai) and Jim Eliot of Kish Mauve fame all aid in the conception of her ‘new sound’. At its core, Halcyon is an electro-pop album yet Goulding’s acceptance of new inspiration (including partner Skrillex) and candor in expressing it via new means of orchestral arrangements and choral hymns means it is no comparison to her coeval and main UK competition, Marina and the Diamonds.
The record opens with what can only be described as a tribal chant, immediately one will notice the impressive production and thankfully, Ellie’s signature vibrato and penchant for vocal gymnastics remain untouched. ‘My Blood’ continues where ‘Don’t Say A Word’ leaves off, organic beats and mantras in tow; her falsetto shines through to emphasise the power of her lyrical and vocal abilities, a strong start and a definite contender for next single.
For those wary of Ellie’s transformation, ‘Anything Could Happen’ will be the most familiar to her previous work; layers of samples and synthesisers accompany the mid-range vocal register employed throughout her last album, a rasping, folkish quality. At this point, Halcyon seems to be one holistic piece of art to be experienced in sequence as each track relates and uses certain intricacies of the last. ‘Only You’ is an interesting piece, infusing soft cadences with a fast paced genre of music, although the teenage disco chipmunk voice sample which appears intermittently is highly annoying and ruins the pace of the track.
It seems that Goulding has a knack at turning tender emotion into something much more accessible by developing arrangements to distract from the melancholic themes; ‘Halcyon’, ‘Figure 8’ and ‘Hanging On’ all belong on any floor filler playlist and yet deal with some questionable motifs of anguish and pain. ‘Explosions’ is by far the most tantalising track. The inclusions of choral and orchestral elements are touching and pleasant to hear; a simple piano accompaniment opens the most affecting song on the record. It’s difficult to discern any tangible emotion from most Top 40 Artists that doesn’t concern getting laid, fortunately, Halcyon provides a little more than the sexual exploits of a pop star. Her song writing has progressed and a maturity is certainly present in this track.
Unfortunately, the album falls at the last hurdle; tracks such as ‘I Know You Care’ and ‘Dead in the Water’ fail to perform and underwhelm following the first two thirds of the record. Halcyon is certainly an exploratory experience for Goulding and the right way to go about releasing a second album. New ground hasn’t been broken but progression and confidence have been noted and will carry her admirably to her next record.