Monday 8 October 2012

Ellie Goulding - Halcyon

Halcyon: adj. denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy and peaceful.

Like Adele's '21', 'Halycon' is something of a break-up album from ex-partner and Radio 1 DJ Greg James. It's still a rather odd title for her sophomore album. It neither looks to the past for its musical inspiration, nor is it a particularly happy or peaceful album. It may indicate that her debut album was a simpler, happier time and 'Halcyon' is certainly a more serious and mature work. But it's also an album about hope, an album that looks towards a brighter future rather than reminiscing on the past. As she implores on the title track "it's gonna be better" - and it certainly is an improvement on 'Lights'.

First single Anything Could Happen is the closest to the pop style of 'Lights', but it's actually her cover of Active Child's Hanging On that has most informed the sound of 'Halcyon'. As with their 2011 album 'You Are All I See', Goulding's work is similarly moody, glittering with harp and tinged with electronica. Here, though, Hanging On is given a contemporary pop twist with its pounding beat that somewhat ruins the haunting atmosphere - though crucially the album edit has been spared Tinie Tempah's inane rap.

All the strings and harp, with their immediate ability to add ethereal magic, undoubtedly relate to Florence + The Machine too. And there's a large dollop of Scrillex, Goulding's current beau, particularly in the dub-step beat and electronic wailing of Figure 8. In all, it's an extension of the dark dance pop of Lights - initially a bonus track on her debut, it has since seen huge success in the US. The varying influences of 'Halcyon' are thus a clear effort to appeal to her fans on both sides of the pond.

When it works, it results in some haunting pop. The unaccompanied vocal yearnings of opener Don't Say A Word make way for some thundering drums taken straight from her live set. My Blood features a soaring chorus amongst its swirling production and Figure 8's melting pot of styles coalesce in a neat pop package. Elsewhere, piano ballad I Know You Care is meant to recreate the success of Your Song, but the songwriting just can't compare. And JOY, though uplifting, is hardly the joyous shout amongst the gloom its title would suggest. Mostly, though, it's Goulding's vocal that is most contentious, adding either fairy-like charm to the music or mimicking a squeaky toy, depending on your outlook. Either way, it often can't compete with the production.

Its roots as a break-up album at least account for the misery of the lyrics and, perhaps, the choice of Hanging On as a linchpin to the album. There's plenty to uplift, though, not least of all current single Anything Could Happen. And whilst the album ends with Dead In The Water, judging by 'Halcyon' Goulding's career is anything but.


Gizzle's Choice:
* My Blood
* Figure 8
* Hanging On

Listen: 'Halcyon' is available now.

Watch: Goulding will be back touring the UK in December.