Ellie Goulding flips her wholesome image with ‘Halcyon’

Photo courtesy of Polydor records.

Pitchforks: 3.5/5

Label: Polydor Records

Release: Oct. 9

 

As the last airy chorus of summer hit “Lights” is loosening its grip on the charts, British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding is back with her sophomore release, “Halcyon.” Save for that distinctive breathiness in Goulding’s voice, “Halcyon” is a complete departure from her debut album, “Lights.”

Gone are the days of angelic synth riffs and glittery album covers. Goulding’s new record is dark and unrelenting, and it shows miles of growth beyond the likes of debut album tracks “The Writer” and “Every Time You Go,” as solid as they might have been.

Even when the singer croons softly on “Atlantis,” sounding deceptively unsure, she seems set on burrowing beneath the listener’s skin and staying there.

The first half of the album through “Figure 8” is by far the more compelling half. There are a number of standout songs toward the beginning of the record, including “My Blood” and the album’s first single, “Anything Could Happen.”

The first of the two tracks are forcefully executed, eerie and vibrant, even if they do sound strangely like a B-side off of Florence and the Machine’s last album. “Anything Could Happen” seems as though it was written with one purpose: to be part two of “My Blood,” down to the lyrics and placement on the album.

The album then segues into “Only You,” which showcases a well-executed yet bizarre use of vocal looping, which becomes pretty standard throughout the record. It turns out to be one of the album’s more interesting production quirks.

Goulding’s ability to turn her voice into a versatile instrument that underlines the rest of the musical arrangement seems so simple that it should have been done already. Somehow, it still sounds fresh on “Halcyon,” especially when it isn’t clear whether or not there are any actual instruments being played.

The second half of the album, by contrast, shows only a few moments of inspiration. Off-kilter dance track, “Hanging On,” is a high point, featuring great, unconventional manipulation of Goulding’s vocals and a powerful, distorted drop into the chorus. There is the same sharp contrast between Goulding’s high voice and the low, rough synths used on the song, which makes earlier tracks on the album seem so interesting.

In a word, “Halcyon” is intriguing: a little insane, a little macabre, but never dull.

Reach the reporter at svhabib@asu.edu