Album Review: Ellie Goulding's 'Halcyon' brightens up far beyond 'Lights'
British singer mines love and loss on U.S. debut
- Critic's Rating B
- Readers' Rating B+
Prince William and Kate Middleton’s favorite wedding singer, Ellie Goulding, finally sees her sophomore album, “Halcyon,” come out this Tuesday, nearly a year after “Lights” first illuminated the Billboard Hot 100.
The bouncy “Lights,” which was on her first album and is a bonus cut here, only hints at the depth the British 25-year old possesses. With a often trembly voice that recalls everyone from Florence Welch to Lykke Li, Kate Bush and James Blunt (seriously, listen to the first verse of the title track), Goulding inhabits an ethereal world where her feathery vocals float above often electronic musical bed.
What lifts Goulding above the raft of female singers out there currently is how she and producer Jim Eliot often use her voice as additional instrumentation, such as on the stompy “Only You.” Her vocalization provides the melody, as she sings around it. On “Joy,” a song about knowing happiness has to come from within and not “in your arms,” her voice, backing vocals and strings create a complete wall of sound.
Much of the material deals with love and its disappearance, whether it be the end of a romantic relationship, or, more poignantly, her father deserting the family when Goulding was five (she hasn’t seen him since). On the trembly “I Know You Care,” she forgives him in way that it’s hard to imagine he deserves. As a songwriter, she has the storytelling down already, but she needs to learn how to craft a catchier chorus. This album is more about atmospherics and emotion than hooks.
Though her voice can seem frail at times, she uses her quiver to great effect on “Dead In the Water,” a largely a cappella stunner of a song about a woman whose husband was swept out to sea while they were walking on the beach, and on the airy "Atlantis" (though the subsequent drop into a heavy chorus feels out of place).
“It’s OK to be afraid, but it will never be the same,” she sings on “Explosions,” as a angelic vocals surround her. That same otherworldly feel permeates almost every song on “Halcyon.” Violins collide with synthesizers and tribal drums and hand claps crash into many of the songs, but it’s Goulding’s confessional, vulnerable vocals that you’ll remember long after you’ve finished listening to “Halcyon.”
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