Lee Williscroft-Ferris listens to Halcyon, the second album from electro-folk songstress, Ellie Goulding, and very much likes what he hears.
2010 was all about Ellie Goulding. Widely touted as the ‘next big thing’, the 25 year-old native of Herefordshire went on to score one of the biggest selling albums of the year, her critically acclaimed début, Lights.
A yuletide Elton John cover and a pink rinse later and Goulding is back with sophomore effort, Halcyon. Hot on the heels of top five single ‘Anything Could Happen’, we were keen to hear whether or not the singer-songwriter has managed to produce a worthy successor. In short, yes she has.
Ellie Goulding’s music has proven difficult to categorise, described variously as ‘electro-folk’, ‘pop’ and ‘dance’ by fans and critics alike. Halcyon does nothing to remedy this dilemma, featuring Goulding’s signature blend of all of these styles throughout. Well, almost.
First track, ‘Don’t Say A Word’, begins with asymmetric beats and a low rumble which gradually morphs into Goulding’s trademark innocent-yet-earthy vocals, making for a lively opening. However, track 2, ‘My Blood’ is where the hair on the back of your neck is more likely to first stand on end. Goulding’s voice literally takes flight during the chorus, sending shivers down the spine as she belts out; ‘God knows I’m going to tell you what I feel now / God knows it’s the only way to heal now’. The song demonstrates perfectly why so many listeners discern a folk influence in Goulding’s work, the dark storytelling underpinning the flawless vocals; ’The colour of my blood is all that I see on the rocks as you sail from me’ is a perfect example of Goulding’s flair as a slightly macabre raconteuse.
This theme is also evident on ‘Anything Could Happen’, which is essentially an ode to living for the moment and one of the catchiest, most radio-friendly tracks on the album. ‘Only You’ features rather bizarre chipmunk-esque backing vocals, but is saved by an insanely catchy hook and a contagious beat, carrying the archetypal album track along nicely.
Next up is title track ‘Halcyon’ which sees a stripped-down verse, allowing Goulding’s beautiful vocals to take centre stage. The basic guitar-driven verse eventually gives way to a heavy rhythm and the refrain, ‘It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be better’ delivered on a repeating loop but with a sense of joyous optimism. MONSTA-produced ‘Figure 8′ features the heaviest beat so far, packing quite the punch as we fast approach the middle of the album.
‘JOY’ (deliberate capitalisation, apparently) is a slow burner, but features some of Goulding’s most nuanced vocals before a fat bassline underlines the bittersweet lyrics, ‘I’m seeing stars, watch me fall apart’. A misnomer if ever there were one, the track is actually about walking away from a defunct relationship. ‘Hanging On’ was released as a promotional single earlier this year, featuring Tinie Tempah in the mid-section. This version is all about Goulding; as loathe as we are to say it, Tinie Tempah’s rapping on the radio version actually added an element to the track which is conspicuous by its absence here.
‘Explosions’, another track released as a promo, is absolutely glorious. The singer sounds incredibly vulnerable as she laments the damage inflicted by a relationship with a man not ready to commit; ‘I remind you of the days you poured your heart into / But you never tried / I’ve fallen from grace / Took a blow to my face / I’ve loved and I’ve lost’. True poetry.
Indeed, it is on tracks such as ‘Explosions’ and ‘My Blood’ – ballads of lyrical and vocal intensity supported by a thumping backbeat that Ellie Goulding truly strides into her own. That enviable capacity for combining a tear-jerking tale with an amazing hook is what has enabled her to avoid the fate of similarly hyped artists like Little Boots. Simpler ballads on Halcyon, such as ‘I Know You Care’ and penultimate track, ‘Dead In The Water’, are arguably less effective without more complex instrumentation, despite Goulding’s ever-impressive voice. By no means poor, but not especially memorable either, these two tracks do verge on the slightly tedious. ‘Atlantis’, on the other hand, is another song which successfully combines Goulding’s natural talent with stellar production values.
However, it is on final bonus track, ‘I Need Your Love’, where Halcyon sacrifices any possibility of a five-star rating. A calamitous collaboration with the ubiquitous Calvin Harris, the track is a facile addition to a collection of lyrically rich compositions. In contrast to the luscious poetry of earlier songs, we are ‘treated’ to lyrics such as: ‘I need your love / I need your time / When everything’s wrong / You make it right’. Frankly, Goulding would be well advised to leave such vacuous bilge to the likes of Rihanna.
Overall, however, Halycon is a must-have for any discerning music lover, particularly those who appreciate outstanding production combined with opulent songwriting and stunningly nuanced vocals. Put it in whichever box you like, Ellie Goulding’s knack for combining a great narrative with addictive instrumentation and childlike, yet formidable vocals, mean she remains very much ‘one to watch’ in 2012.
Go Get It: ‘My Blood’/ ‘Explosions’ / ‘Anything Could Happen’
Forget It: ‘I Know You Care’ / ‘I Need Your Love’