Critical Voices: Ellie Goulding, Halcyon

October 11, 2012

If Ke$ha embodies the crass and gaudy character of American electropop, singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding brings a British sensibility and sensitivity to the genre, asserting that, in the words of Downton Abbey’s Lady Grantham, “vulgarity is no substitute for wit.” In her sophomore release, Halcyon, Ellie Goulding showcases her strength as a subdued vocalist, building upon her recognizable brand of synthetic, high-energy folktronica. Lyrically, however, the album lacks originality and fails to channel Goulding’s voice into anything more than sweet, medium-paced dance records—a style she’s already perfected.

Goulding’s voice is featured prominently on each song in the album, and her delicate yet dynamic vocals are the only constant aspect of her style that keep the listener’s attention. Any harmony or bass is always secondary to her soaring refrain. In the fourth track of the record, “Only You,” Goulding hums a bass melody before breaking into the chorus, and, in a move typical of the album, the song transitions to her upper register, forcing emotion into its closing lines.

Few other tracks in Halcyon deviate from this pattern. The lead single, “Don’t Say a Word,” begins with soft, buoyant chords that echo electronically into the singer’s following syllables. The ethereal instrumentation and indefinite background moaning and humming of “Don’t Say a Word” reflect the dreamlike tone carried throughout the album.

For the first minute of “Don’t Say a Word,” Goulding continually trails off and repeats the words, “If you never said anything,” emoting thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Although the pace picks up two minutes in, the only lyrics she sings evoke a sense of mystery in attempt to sound emotional: “And if I save us, and I fall down / I will leave your words behind now.” However, her words amount to little more than superfluous philosophizing, ultimately leading to the album’s downfall.

While Goulding formed her style on Lights, drawing on luminous vocals that incorporate medium-paced, dreamy electronic beats, she fails on her sophomore album to break out of this mold. Listening to Halcyon beginning to end becomes tiresome, as each song rehashes a different mix of synthesizer, bass, vocals, and humming. Certain songs are wonderfully well done, but Goulding needs to break from her established style in order to develop as a singer-songwriter. Though Halcyon lives up to its peaceful name as an effort in light, airy synthetic pop music, what it achieves with Goulding’s ethereal voice, it lacks in creativity.

Connor Jones
Connor Jones is the former editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Voice. Before that, he edited its blog, Vox Populi and the features section. He was a double major in mathematics and economics and is from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.

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