Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Halcyon Days | Ellie Goulding


This review only covers the ten new tracks. If you would like to read my review of the original album, click here.

It's only been a little under a year since Ellie Goulding released her sophomore album Halcyon, and now she is already churning out a new piece of work to accompany it, called Halcyon Days.

Before we get into the actual music, let's talk about the covers. Goulding and her management opted to use the original covers from Halcyon, and simply added a coloring effect on both to make them stand out. Pink and blue were used for the standard, and green and blue for the deluxe.

To be honest, I like the covers with the colors added to them a lot more than I did the original black and white shots. I was a bit dissappointed that we didn't get any new pictures as the cover (because this shot would have made an awesome cover), but I'm glad that the ones that we have look nice.

Here in the United States, Halcyon Days can be purchased in a standard and a deluxe packaging alongside the original album, much like the release of Ke$ha's Animal + Cannibal and Lana Del Rey's Born To Die: The Paradise Edition. This marketing strategy seems to be really popular nowadays in an attempt to expand existing work. Some people don't like it, but I think it's a nice way for artists to get new material out there without massive new marketing campaigns.

The track listing of the original Halcyon has been left untouched, and I've got a problem with it: "Lights" is still on it. While I do agree that "Lights" was, and still is, an outstanding track and deserved every bit of success it had, it's time to stop trying to market it. It sounds great with the rest of the tracks on Lights and Bright Lights, but it just ruins the flow of this album.

Now, onto the new material. I reviewed the lead single for the release when it was put on Goulding's SoundCloud account back in July, giving it high marks. "Burn" doesn't stray too far away from the sound of Halcyon, but it has more of a commercialized sound. The song begs for commercial success, but doesn't let down in terms of quality either, which is hard to find nowadays. (She must have done something right with this song; it reached the top spot on the United Kingdom Singles Chart. It was her first song to do so.)

The second track, "Goodness Gracious," turned out much different than I expected. It was originally marketed as a collaboration with the always-irritating Nate Ruess, the fun. frontman. However, Ruess was only involved with the writing process of the song. (He, Goulding, Greg Kurstin are credited with penning the song.) Thankfully, Ruess' irritating voice was found nowhere in the actual song, letting me fully enjoy the happy-sounding song.

"You, My Everything" has the most in common with the original Halcyon tracks. It would have blended right in with the track listing of the original album, which makes me wonder if it was actually meant for Halcyon but then got pushed back to this re-release. (Don't take this comment as a bad thing; "You, My Everything" is one of my favorite tracks from release. It's just that its similarities to the sound of Halcyon are uncanny.)

The album's fast electronic style slows down with "Hearts Without Chains," which is a stripped track with Goulding, a piano, a few electronic noises here and there. The song was included as a B-side to the single release of "Burn," leading to its leak a few weeks before the album's release. (Well, to be honest, almost all of the songs were leaked intentionally by Goulding before the release of Halcyon Days...)

It's a very personal and heartfelt song comparable to Halcyon's "Explosions." The chorus contains some of my many favorite lines from Goulding: "I wish time was still / We'd stay right here / With time to kill / With our hearts without chains. / If time was still / We'd have no fear or scars to heal / And our hearts without chains." I wasn't really expecting any stripped songs like this on the album, but I do like it. In fact, it's one of my favorites from Goulding.

The album kicks back up with "Stay Alive," which was released on an exclusive version of Halcyon last year, but it never saw a large-scale release. The song features the production of Madeon, who has most recent been announced as a producer on Lady Gaga's upcoming album, ARTPOP. 

I love the sound of the instrumental, but the production is way too heavy for Goulding's voice. In "Stay Awake," it seems like her voice is fighting against the loud drums and it is evident that the instrumental just isn't compatible with her voice. Goulding's light voice is usually quite confident and complimented well by her songs, but the overproduction of this song makes her voice sound far too weak.

Goulding keeps the electronic vibes coming with "Under Control," in which she reverts back to more of a sound found in "Figure 8." The slow dubstep influences and the shouts of "I feel like I'm breathing again / I feel like I'm seeing again" make a perfect recipe for sending chills up the listener's arms. Its production and amazing vocals easily make it one of my favorites from the album.

The second of the three collaborations on Halcyon Days is the DJ Fresh-produced track, "Flashlight." If I had to compare it to other tracks, I could easily say that it's a happy medium between "Stay Awake" and "Under Control." It's somewhat different than Goulding's other electronic tracks, but not so much that it sounds unfitting for her, which makes me like it more than Madeon's track on the album.

At only two and a half minutes long, "How Long Will I Love You" makes a quick ending for the standard version of the album. It is similar to "Hearts Without Chains," being that it is another slow-tempo track, but it just doesn't seem to have the spark that "Hearts Without Chains." Nothing about the song stands out and it's just not a memorable track. This is probably the only track of Halcyon Days that I will skip when listening to it all the way through.

Included on the deluxe album is Goulding's cover of alt-J's "Tessallate." It has been available for a long while on Goulding's SoundCloud and YouTube accounts. It's a relaxing song, probably more so than the original, and I love the personal touches she put on the song, including the harmonies in the chorus and the beautiful saxophone solo in the middle of the song. Like she does with all of the covers she's made, she easily gave the song a whole new feel and really made it her own.

The other bonus track on the deluxe version of Halcyon Days was also leaked by Goulding early. It is another cover, this time of Midnight Star's "Midas Touch." Goulding collaborated with Burns to give this old funk track a twenty-first century electronic face-lift. This song is pretty good, but I'm glad it's a bonus track because it doesn't add a lot to the album. This being said, it does have a cool sound and I love the edited vocal lines in the chorus that makes Goulding sound robotic while singing.

Halcyon Days covers every side of Ellie Goulding: the radio-friendly "Burn," the personal "Hearts Without Chains," and the good old electronic explosion of "You, My Everything" and "Under Control." It's a very versatile album that works as a great extension to Halcyon. Some people were rubbed the wrong way by the commercial sound of "Burn," but even those fans should be able to find something that they love on this album. I sure know I loved every bit of it.

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