In Greek legend, the halcyon is a bird that can tame the sea, bringing several days of peace and calm before the winter storms. In the spirit of the myth, Ellie Goulding has crafted an enticing sophomore album named after the bird itself, which lulls you into a calm only to wake you with an electro-storm. Lyrically, Goulding draws on the elements for inspiration. Frequent references to blood, sun and water create that earthy sound space which only Goulding could inhabit.
The opening track “Don’t Say a Word” fades in with Goulding’s haunting vocal ramblings, bringing to mind the myth of the Sirens. The pixie-like soprano spends the majority of the album lingering in the darkness of her breakup with British DJ Greg James, but tracks like “Anything Could Happen” provide a much-needed burst of optimism. Goulding echoes the vernacular of fellow Brit Ed Sheeran on the single, shouting out: “I’ll give you anything you need / But I don’t think I need you.”
On “Only You,” vocal loops and ethereal production complement Goulding’s crying of “Only you can be the aching in my heart / My enemy, the only animal I couldn’t fight.” The influence of Goulding’s current beau, EDM star Skrillex, is notable throughout, particularly on “Hanging On” and “Figure 8.” The latter features a brilliant bit where strings and electro-scratch frantically build alongside Goulding’s hums of “lovers hold onto everything,” only to cascade into synth-filled frenzy.
Calvin Harris contributes the highlight of the album, “I Need Your Love,” breathing new life into the familiar techno breakdown. Although Halcyon revels in its more dance-worthy moments, the stripped down vocals and simple piano chords of “I Know You Care” add even more emotional weight to what is already an honest and raw album. Goulding does more than offer a follow-up to her mega-hit “Lights;” she offers up her heart and soul.
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