Two things today have shaped my perception of Ellie Goulding. The first is that I found out she is dating Skrillex, which is tragically unfortunate in my opinion. Second, is that I listened to her new album, Halycon, which was released last Monday.
This is not your average album review, because I don’t know too much about music. Instead you should consider it an experience review, because truly this is a review of my experience while listening to Halycon. This review is also full of hyperbolic opinions.
Last spring my mother gave me a compilation of 50 artists covering Bob Dylan songs. Somehow she thought me being a hippie meant I listened to Bob Dylan. While she was wrong in that assumption, it was a pleasant surprise before a long road trip. The reason I bring this up is because on the album Ke$ha did an acoustic rendition of one of his songs, and it was terrible. Now don’t get me wrong, I wish the real world was more like a Ke$ha music video (primarily ‘Your Love Is My Drug,’ but ‘Take It Off’ would serve nicely), but this song proved that as great as her bounce tunes are, she has no flexibility in her vocal talent, and probably no future in her career. That cannot be said about Ellie Goulding, who happens to be an angel. Rather than a regular review, I want you to get into my musical steamboat as I take you through my resulting internal convulsions. It is like if puppies and kaleidoscopes came out of nuclear warheads.
So it starts off with ‘Don’t Say a Word,’ and I’m not, because I am listening to an album that I was pretty excited for. And that is what this song is all about. This song is not going to be your jam, it is more of a tomb stone that says, “This album will be so good, I don’t need to have a great first song, and you are going to die from how much you enjoy the rest of it.” It is like the when they tell you to turn your phone of at the movies, just another step to get you ready for the show.
Do you like Kate Nash? Because ‘My Blood’ is like a deeper voiced Kate Nash, it even has the heavy keyboard involvement, but there is something more too. Similar to how Adele kicks it up a notch sometime, throws extra backup vocals and cracks up the non-focal sounds, Ellie does it here to. That is not to say that she is copying, but that she is willing to embrace greatness, which she is.
So then there is the song that the third season of the Soapbox Live! (Every Monday 7-8PM on KUST) was named after, ‘Anything Could Happen.’ This is a great song. I’m not even going to come up with a crazy metaphor. In the same way that ‘Starry Eyed’ and ‘Lights’ set the standard for her last album, I feel that this song is one of the top tracks on the album and could easily work its way up the singles charts.
‘Only You,’ is next. I think this song more than any characterizes Ellie’s own style, where she pulls away from standard British female vocalist patterns. The stunning mix of emotional vocalization, pop synthesizing hooks, and mixed in electro fun times is quite unique. Do you remember when Lady Gaga was unique? Right about December 2009, after ‘Bad Romance’ came out but before ‘Alejandro’ was bastardized by an obnoxious music video. This song captures that same moment of prime glory, but the talent that Ellie holds bides much better fortunes than reliance on the boons flair and circus that others at her point have turned to.
The title song of the album, ‘Halycon’, is much more your traditional British singer-songwriter piece, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t smell like your ordinary Ellie song, she utilizes the right mix of moments to make the song pick up pace and tone, a balance that many artists take years longer to develop.
The best song on the album is ‘Figure Eight.’ You can tell from the opening vocalizations that the awesome level just went from 11 to epic. Similarly to ‘Anything Could Happen,’ this is a song that is commercial, but unlike other catchy tunes by the no-talent corporate sell-outs that normally grace the Billboard 200, this song maintains artistic dignity. Many define art as emotion brought into physical form. Ellie Goulding, if you are trying to create fine art…mission accomplished.
And then ‘Joy’ happens. By song seven you typically know what you are going to get the rest of the album. I made that assumption as this song started off with a Lena Horne vibe, but then like a burst of sun when the clouds open on a rainy day I explode. The song escalates into greater and greater varieties of sheer exhilaration. In the same way a hot air balloon is liberated as its operator unties it from its loading dock this song takes off. Imagine if pandas could surf, this point in the album is when they start surfing on outer space sharks. Now, on its own I do not believe the song if knock your socks off fantastic, it is only in the progression of the album that it reaches these new unfound heights. The only thing I can musically compare it to is the song ‘No No No’ by R-Swift. If is a lyric driven rap song with a steady modern beat, but then 2/3rds the way through switches to an equally tempoed horn and Caribbean drum beat only for Monty G to hop on and spit some reggae infused rap lyrics. The only sensible reaction is, “Oh, no they didn’t!” Joy does that for me here, and it is a fantastic stop on this magical voyage.
At this point I am barely ‘Hanging On’ to the edge of my seat. Ellie’s voice in this song is a personal glass elevator to the heavens. It gets progressively more electronic, not in a pop over-reliance sense, but truly as a vessel for her voice. A banana peel full of skittles if you will.
By this point my brain has fully melted, so the rest of this review will be brief. Here is a haiku;
‘Explosions’ was meh.
‘I know you care’ disappoints.
‘Atlantis’ is fair.
Either by this point I am exhausted from the mental strain of music at this magnitude or the last half of the album was an afterthought. I mean ‘Atlantis’ is not super bad, but it is weak compared to the rest of the CD. If you were an astronaut, this song would be a trip taken in a nice airplane. First class is swell, but it is no space shuttle. The album ends with ‘Dead in the Water’ which is only there to close out the album and really isn’t worth listening to again.
So the album ends on a low note. To be honest, I still would rate it as the best new release I have heard this year. Ellie really delivers with both memorable tracks and a top quality audio experience. I would say you should check it out.
Don’t forget to check out the Soapbox Live! every Monday night from 7-8PM. Great social justice talk, cool tunes, and whatever else might end up happening! This is Troy Davis signing off!