In 2011, British pop artist Ellie Goulding quickly captured international attention with her debut album, “Lights.” She found her niche in mainstream music with an original blending of indie/folk and electronica/pop styles.
On her sophomore album, “Halcyon,” Goulding uses many of the same ingredients that made “Lights” so appealing. Once again she is able to use acoustic folk instruments compliment synthesized instruments. Although the softer sounds tend to get drowned out in more electronic songs like “My Blood, they resurface and play a more prominent role in the second half of the album as Goulding settles the sound down some. The first half of the album packs a punch with high-energy songs that feature soft yet, suspenseful, introductions that climax with a certain liberating loudness listeners from the U.K. to the U.S. will be dying to dance to. “Anything Can Happen” and “Only You” are a club DJ’s dream come true, with intense electric drums and synthesizers and “Figure 8” even verges on dubstep at times. These tenacious tracks ebb and flow in a form of call and response with Goulding’s clear, strong voice. The lyrics are not particularly profound, but they are no less true and honest than the words in the more serious songs. And due to their anthem-like delivery, they are catchy and memorable, sure to be listened to over and over.
While many of the songs are pounded out with an abundance of percussion and bass, Goulding does utilize some classical instruments, such as the piano, violin and even a harp. Those first few energetic tracks get your attention and bring you into the album, but for the most part, the songs on the second half of “Halcyon” are less electronically and more emotionally charged. The talented vocalist uses her haunting voice to clarify that she has clearly been hurt and this album sounds as though it was a way for Goulding to work through some serious heartache.
In its entirety, this new album shows how the young and gifted folk/pop singer can be vulnerable in her music; she does not shy away from boldly belting out incredibly personal lyrics about a painful relationship. Apparently, British guys just don’t know how to let a girl down easy – first Adele, now, poor Ellie. But on “Halcyon,” Goulding tries to focus more on the positive life lessons she has taken away from the challenging experiences that inspired her most work, rather than wallow in the pain and bring her listeners down to that point as well. “JOY” - notice the all caps – is the seventh song on the album and it is at this halfway point in “Halcyon” that Goulding metaphorically, and literally, takes a break from the intensity of the first six songs to have a moment of personal reflection. In “JOY,” she exudes confidence as she sums up the journey she has recently gone through. As the song title suggests, she also explains what it is that she found at the end of that journey. By the end of the song there is a subtle strength in Goulding’s voice that makes it clear she is ready to address more delicate issues in the proceeding songs.
In the second half of the album, Goulding does go on to sing about the difficult parts of recovering from any emotionally challenging experience. Although “JOY” is a bright spot on the album, “Halcyon definitely does not have the same sparkle of “Lights.” Simply by comparing the two covers of her albums, one can gather that “Halcyon” would is probably going to reflect a darker subject matter: “Lights” has the artist being bathed in a shower of sunshine that shimmers in her golden-blond hair. “Halcyon’s” cover is much less flower child and much more Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, featuring a less vibrant black and white side profile of Goulding. After hearing the album, the difference in the two covers begins to suggest a certain maturity and seriousness in Goulding and not a necessarily darker mood. For the last few songs of the “Halcyon,” she softly addresses whoever she softly addresses whoever that unfortunate soul is who inflicted this pain on her. She is not bitter though – just a little shell-shocked and still sorting through the rubble.
On “Explosions,” she admits that her spirit was broken for a time and that a huge hole was left in her life, but goes on to show that she is not bitter in “I Know You Care.” The album does come to a close with a tinge of melancholia in “Dead in the Water.” An organ-like synthesizer coupled with Goulding’s chilling voice laced heavily with reverb, calls out to her former companion one last time; not to assure him that she’ll be ok, but to leave him with one last reminder of the tormented state in which he left her.
Whenever an artist garners so much praise for a debut album, there can be a lot of pressure when said artist returns to the studio to try and recreate the magic. “Halcyon” is a powerful follow-up to “Lights” that will undoubtedly resonate with her current fans, as well as gain her new ones. Her raw honesty on this album makes it highly relatable to listeners while managing to inspire, rather than depress. In “Halcyon’s” opening track, “Don’t Say A Word,” Goulding proclaims, “I’m more alive now, than I’ve ever been.” It certainly sounds like it.