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TBTS Reviews: Halcyon by Ellie Goulding

October 10, 2012

I’ve written before about my weak spot for female vocalists, and even though my default soundtrack is usually hard rock it’s no secret that I love hip, bouncy electropop like Robyn. Ellie Goulding really nails the kind of smart electronic folk music that gives me hope for the entire genre.

Goulding is a 25-year-old singer/songwriter from London who’s been releasing singles since 2009. Her debut LP, Lights, came out in 2010 and its title track was… pretty much everywhere. I can almost guarantee you’ve heard it, even if you don’t recognize it. It’s been remixed by a dozen other DJs (including Goulding’s current beau, Skrillex, and popular metalhead-turned-EDM-genius, Bassnectar).

I recently completed a major web project that kept me at my computer for hours at a time, day in and day out. I’d say about 75% of that time was spent with Lights on repeat on Spotify. I feel like I’ve become intimately familiar with her music. She strikes me as basically a folk singer who happens to have drum machines and synths on her songs. In fact, many of her live performances are stripped-down affairs where she does very folk-y versions of her material. This, to me, is the true test of a songwriter: if you can strip away the album’s production and still end up with a good song. Goulding is more than capable of this.

Her latest release, Halcyon (out this week), is more of the bubbly tunes and clever production I got used to on Lights. Looped vocal hiccups abound, sometimes evoking “She Bop”-era Cyndi Lauper. Plinky pianos and sweeping strings add texture to “My Blood” as Goulding cranks everything to 10 for the chorus. It’s hard not to sing along with these tunes. The album’s title track is perhaps the most sparse, production-wise, only adding some synth pads and layered vocals during the chorus. Some of these songs are dark, minor-key ditties, in marked contrast to her earlier material which was often almost maddeningly happy.

“Figure 8” has hammering drums and gnarly synth-bass that recalls “Flux and Flow” by Lights, another female vocalist in the electronic folk genre. This is definitely a good thing, and I think a Lights/Goulding tour would be sensational. Other tracks have the epic, big-drums sound popularized by pop-rockers OneRepublic, while still others (like “I Know You Care”) keep it piano-and-vocals simple, Elton-style.

I’ve only had enough time to give Halcyon a few solid listens, but I really love this record. It’s great that she’s able to keep her own music grounded in (generally) acoustic instrumentation while still facilitating some pretty great remixes by popular EDM artists. Ellie Goulding has the talent and hopefully the work ethic to keep releasing material of this quality.

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