One might think that hanging around Skrillex might add some psychotic electronic vibe to pop-driven life, but for Ellie Goulding, it’s done the opposite. Dating the Dubstep DJ definitely influenced the singer during the interim between debut album Lights and new effort Halcyon: somehow it’s proven to water down one of the boldest new acts of the past few years.
Goulding’s second release hits shelves at an opportune moment for the British singer. Mainstream success from her latest single, “Lights,” arose quite slowly, finally mastering Billboard’s charts nearly two years after its release and stapling itself as a huge summer hit (or rather, the “Call Me Maybe” that didn’t make our ears bleed.)
Having dropped only this week, it’s too soon to tell if Halcyon is a sleeper hit like “Lights.” As of now, the album hasn’t improved since its first listen. It’s not a bad record though. Halcyon is well-produced and nicely conceptualized, full of signature shy character and cutesy pop hooks about love gone wrong.
The album has it all and isn’t totally dampened by its stormy concept, yet nothing goes full force. There’s not enough bang and boom yet a void in all things incredible. There’s no glittery, fiery “Starry Eyed” sort of magic. The album is just good but not mind-blowingly fantastic. “Explosions” doesn’t literally explode in our eardrums, for example. “JOY,” in all its capitalized expression, ends up sounding very lowercase. Some parts of this album disappoint.
The whole project is actually very light-hearted for a breakup album. This precaution seems like a generous compromise, sacrificing anger and resentment for humble acceptance of the situation. But if you’re going to write a breakup record, it might as well be full of anthems that sonically throw things at the wall in terror or wring out your heart like a soiled, aching, wet rag. In musical terms, Goulding sort of just prances away and looks back in indifference.
Nonetheless, her team finds exciting mixes to tack onto powerful words. Producers Billboard and Calvin Harris keep the bass tight in and manage to find an addictive beat and expert synth in songs like “My Blood” and “Figure 8,” both standout slayers considering the other songs. It’s just when gentle Goulding strips down to piano and vocals when everything crumbles. “I Know You Care” is beautifully written but not well-represented as far as the disjointed melody trails. How upsetting!
As with every promotional record, “Anything Can Happen” remains one of few celebratory tracks on Goulding’s sophomoric effort, having a different feel, happy and full of abandon. Like most powerful lead singles, the track is not as strong as its companions on the record, but that’s whatever. The true test lies in those in-between tracks.
Boldly attempted and fulfillingly executed, “Hanging On” is the hot Active Child cover that nearly outperforms its predecessor. The song is fiery, deep and mesmerizing, surrounded by snoozers that don’t even compare.
What worked on Lights was a fascinating sound. Rich in innovative electronic pop spirit and unique in British pop flavor, the album challenged 2010’s pop music norm, fitting into no specific category of contemporary noise yet slipping loosely into many at once. Come on, Ellie, this was the time to embellish the indie-pop chime, not pull it back! Regardless, we’ll sit back and watch it blow up. Halcyon is going to be huge.