Monday, October 8, 2012

Album Review: Ellie Goulding - Halcyon

Ellie Goulding
Rating: Meh

With her 2010 debut album Lights, English singer Ellie Goulding found herself winning a Brits Critic Choice award and topping a BBC new artist poll with a polite mix of Dido-esque electro-balladry. While it was a pleasant collection of pop tracks, overall it suffered from a lack of a distinct personality, though Goulding's raspy voice has enough pull to keep interest for awhile. The approach for Goulding's second album Halcyon seems to want to capitalize on her prior success without straying too far from the already established template. The most glaring problem with the album is still that Goulding doesn't know what she wants to be as a singer. Shuttling from Florence + The Machine ethereal goth-rock to blazing electro-dubstep bangers to more Dido-esque pop lite all the way to more soul baring singer-songwriter tracks, Halcyon is frustratingly schizophrenic to the point of irritation.

It is telling that the most distinctive track on the album is "I Need Your Love" featuring Calvin Harris, and is only distinctive owing to the fact it sounds like a Calvin Harris track.

Which is overreaching problem of the record that Goulding is mostly consigned to the background of her own tracks. She becomes just another diva vocalist on the dubstep-influenced track "Figure 8,"

opener "Don't Say A Word" clouds her behind over the top orchestrations,

and the otherwise interesting electro track "Anything Could Happen" buries Goulding's voice in too many effects.

Where her producers allow her to just be herself is where the record truly succeeds and which oddly are on the more minimal, singer-songwriter tracks. Stunning ballad "I Know You Care" forces Goulding's voice front and center in the mix and is a haunting song of love lost,

confessional "Dead In The Water" is a gorgeous showcase for her voice,

and her dubstep inflected cover of Active Child's "Hanging On" finally allows her voice to command over the dense electronics.

But overall, despite these glimpses of who Goulding really is, Halcyon just never seems to lift off the ground. Her backseat approach limits the album's appeal because she just becomes another vocalist at the whim of a producer. Only in those rare moments where her voice rises above all the swirling instrumentation does it show how good Goulding's voice can be, unencumbered by all the studio trickery. As it stands, however, Halcyon is just another in a series of disappointing record releases where the vocalist is made to be secondary to the production.

Rating Scale:

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and piques one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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