Ellie Goulding’s 'Halcyon': What The Critics Are Saying
The "Lights" singer-songwriter releases her sophomore album on Oct. 9.
Ellie Goulding’s smash hit "Lights," off her debut album of the same name, peaked at No. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on mainstream top 40. While the top charted song was driven in synthpop and electronic dance music, Goulding’s sophomore album, Halcyon, dives more deeply into her strong vocals.
To find inspiration for her second disc, the singer-songwriter traveled back to her native Herefordshire, England, to record with producer Jim Elliot. But surprisingly, one producer who did not work with her on Halcyon was boyfriend Skillrex (also known as Sonny Moore). She tells Billboard, “I definitely wanted him to work with this record, and… there's no doubt that Sonny and I will work together, when we're both a little bit less busy -- because at the moment, his career is crazy.”
The duo did ultimately end up collaborating on one track, "Bittersweet," which will be featured on the Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 soundtrack.
With or without her Grammy Award-winning boyfriend’s help, Goulding has the music critics at attention, with many praising her new release. Still, some reviewers are still looking for more from the British singer-songwriter.
Read below to see what the critics are saying about the album:
Chris Payne from Billboard is hopeful about the new album’s success: “Considering the lyrical weight of Halcyon, its lead single 'Anything Could Happen' might strike listeners as a bit of a surprise. Goulding thinks of the album as a journey from dark to light, and the song is certainly a glimpse into the bright end of that tunnel -- its most hopeful, affirming moment. It's already seen heavy television exposure via the Beats Electronics commercial it accompanies, reminding audiences that although 2010's 'Lights' is still holding strong on the charts, Goulding seems to have much more in store.”
LA Times’ Mikael Wood says, “The singer's fine sophomore disc demonstrates why the latter occasion -- at which she serenaded the royal couple with a version of Elton John's ‘Your Song’ -- was better suited to Goulding's talents. On Halcyon she marries thoughtful ruminations on young love to whooshing synth riffs and hard-edged machine beats; the album claims electronic dance music as the natural province of sensitive singer-songwriters.”
Melinda Newman at HitFix comments, “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.”
However, Newman notes, “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.”
Consequence of Sounds's Michael Roffman mentions that Goulding’s emotions on the album works in the meantime: “In today’s era of pop, where computers find the soul for winning contestants, it’s hard to scoff at Goulding, whose sole problem on her record is being too emotionally redundant. Granted, she could have eschewed some of the self-flagellating tragedies for more English roses, but she didn’t. Instead, she carved out an album that sounds exactly how a modern pop record should, complete with human weaknesses and synthetic production that smells like new action figures (or, fresh leather interior for the adults). With help from the album’s core producer Jim Eliot, Goulding proves to have a death-grip-grasp on today’s sound, similar to M83′s Anthony Gonzalez but dissimilar in that she’s still miles away from his keen foresight. That’s just it, though: Halcyon works for this hour, but it’s tomorrow that Goulding should be emotionally torn over. To be fair, I’ve also yet to turn off 'Anything Could Happen.'”
Idolator’s Sam Lansky likes some songs, but not others: “There are clear hits on Halcyon, and there are frustrating near-hits that ultimately just feel like misses. Goulding’s quirky jangle of a lead single, 'Anything Could Happen,' is sweet, charming, and ultimately a little bit dull -- like the sonic embodiment of Zooey Deschanel. The ballad 'I Know You Care' is lyrically rich -- penned by Lana Del Rey’s 'Video Games' co-writer Justin Parker -- but the simple piano-and-choir production is so spare that it turns somnolent. Throughout, vocals are processed and filtered in lieu of instrumentation, which is a curious motif. It works best on the gorgeous 'Explosions' and less so on 'Don’t Say A Word,' which just feels chaotic. 'Only You' is somewhere in between, thunderous and electrifying but bereft of the kind of earworms that would make it compulsively replayable.”
Allison Stewart from The Washington Post is a fan, stating, “Goulding has a more powerful voice and better branding — she performed at the royal wedding reception last year — than Duffy did. Her new disc, Halcyon, doesn’t sound like the obligatory, stapled-together post-hit-song album release. It sounds like the beginning of something credible.”
Jenny Chu at Entertainmentwise agrees: “The world is to remain impressed and she can scrap the ‘Starry eyed star’ status because this album will see her in the long run. Anyone listening would think this was produced by a supremely experienced musician but for Ellie this is only her second time with a full length album, she sets the bar high.”
Rolling Stone’s Will Hermes ends with, “Halcyon, her second LP, pumps up her sound as befitting a court musician. The single 'Anything Could Happen' has the London Community Gospel Choir swooping around staccato piano and club beats; elsewhere she's multitracked into a one-woman choir. If the songwriting doesn't quite measure up to U.K. art-pop divas like Kate Bush, the hooks always go to town, and her voice -- Dolly Parton-dazzling in the upper register -- mates gorgeously with electronics, swirling around itself on the title track, morphing through synthscapes on 'Don't Say a Word.' 'I Need Your Love,' a bangin' collab with Scottish rave-op master Calvin Harris (Rihanna's 'We Found Love'), gets slotted as a 'bonus cut,' maybe to avoid confusing the more genteel fans. But Goulding's magic is in her multitasking. And if she really gets busy with current paramour Skrillex, things could get even more interesting.”
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