Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Glowing Album Review: Ellie Goulding, Halcyon

Cover photo from
Ellie Goulding's album, Halcyon
In case you haven't noticed, the past few posts I've made have been of the Scrooge variety:  stuff sucks.  So I wanted to be sure and post something that's not negative just to show you guys that I don't hate everything.

I am absolutely LOVING Ellie Goulding's new album Halcyon.

It is awesome writing music, driving music, singing music, everything music.  I put it on when I'm alone, I put it on when the hubby and I are typing away, I put it on anytime I want to hear music, actually.  I'm addicted.  I have tried to listen to other things, but always end up switching back to Halcyon.  It's crack, apparently.

Prior to being blown up on the radio and played every two seconds, I kind of liked "Lights."  I kind of liked her first album.  It was all right, decent background music, but didn't have any standout tracks that I would put on a mix tape, for example.

Halcyon is different.  I read that it's a breakup album--and it shows.  This is a good thing.  The lyrics are deeper, and some of them are the kind that reach inside you to stab you in the heart and steal your breath.  The melodies are haunting and catchy at the same time.  The mood is melancholy but somehow triumphant.

It's a weird place to be...acknowledging despair and sadness, but also the fact that things will get better.  That's what makes this album so much fun to listen to.  The rhythms and melodies lift you up, but then when you listen to the lyrics, you realize, holy crap, this girl is in despair.    

Track 2, "My Blood," is a standout.  It has a thumping, rhythmic background with chanting that sounds almost Native American.  The chorus takes flight out of the low, bass rhythms of the chorus.  This is where her silvery, elfin voice creates a beautiful contrast with the beating drums.  Her lyrics bring it all together:  "The waves will break every chain on me / my bones will bleach / my flesh will flee / So help my lifeless frame to breathe."  The metaphor of the song is that the breakup of a relationship results in blood lost.  She sings about "all the blood I lost with you," and seeing the color of her blood on walls and rocks.  If you've ever been through a bad breakup, you know that's exactly what it feels like...a slow murder.

I'm also a sucker for a depressing ballad, and there are two killer ballads back-to-back toward the end of he album.  Track 9, "Explosions," and Track 10, "I Know You Care," made me stop what I was doing and remember to breathe.

"I Know You Care" is probably going to be one of my desert island songs.  It's just Goulding and a piano as she sings about the turning point in a relationship where you know it's going wrong.  She sings, "You were like home to me / I don't recognize this street" to explain the way her lover has changed toward her.  Then, she follows up with, "Outside the cars speed by / I'd never heard them until now."  It's one of those writerly details that amaze me on this album.  She's pinpointed that moment, that very moment when the world around you changes and suddenly you see and hear things you didn't before...and it's not a good thing.

Late in the song, as she describes the nuclear fallout of this relationship gone wrong, she sings, "I know it wasn't always wrong / but I've never known a winter so cold / now I don't warm my hands in your coat / but I still hope..."  Her voice tilts up on "hope," and you know there's a whole world contained in the phrasing of that one word.  It's so beautiful and it breaks your heart.  Four lines later, she ends the verse with, "Why can't I dream? / Why can't I dream?"  It's the bleakness of a soul-shattering breakup without the strained, treacly, sickly sweet voicing that ruins many pop and R&B ballads.

The Brits are really kicking ass in terms of albums I'm loving right now.  The last album I had in heavy rotation was Emeli Sande's Our Version of Events.  These smart women are writing songs that feel true, without the dance-pop bluster that American radio hits seem to rely on.

If you haven't heard it, try to find a quiet place to listen via YouTube.  I can't recommend it enough.  Plus, I read in an interview that she loves to run (me too!) and her writing idol is Haruki Murakami.  This may be a full-on girl crush.