“Burn” is barely a few months old and has already yielded Ellie her first #1 single in the UK. The track arrives as part of a “re-loaded” (if you will) release of her sophomore album Halcyon, titled Halcyon Days (out today, ). At ten solid tracks, Halcyon Days could theoretically live as a standalone. Attached to Halcyon, however, it becomes a welcomed branch of Ellie Goulding’s multi-tiered musical vision.
Halcyon as a standard release is categorically dark. Much like Ellie’s debut album Lights, the follow-up includes handfuls of cuts that swim in a whirlpool of unrequited love, the need to move on, and/or the perseverance to keep at a romance that is worth the wait. Ellie has a gift, though, for masking morbidity within poppy uptempo beats (listen to the lyrics on “Lights” and “Anything Could Happen”; they’re darker than you think).
When Ellie reloaded her debut album in 2010, calling it Bright Lights, what she tacked on were cuts that began a spiral into a much deeper transition (the US debut release was an amalgam of Lights and Bright Lights). By the time Halcyon came around, the darkness was far more apparent, yet the deluxe included some bright spots like the Calvin Harris assisted “I Need Your Love,” which landed Ellie two MTV VMA nominations for Song Of the Summer and Best Collaboration. Halcyon Days is a progression into happier territory, but Ellie isn’t one to stay happy for too too long.
Halcyon Days opens with EG’s latest hit “Burn,” a celebration of life in its purest form. It leads into “Goodness Gracious,” co-penned by Nate Ruess of fun. Here’s where the happy beat embraces the not-so-happy bars. “Loosen the noose then let go of the rope,” Ellie coos. “I know if it’s never coming back, it has to go.” Other songs like “You My Everything,” “Under Control,” “Stay Awake” (with Madeon), and “Flashlight” (with DJ Fresh) take Goulding’s natural inclination for electronic beats and mix them with the soulful undertone of her vocals.
There are a few covers that all feel like they were Ellie’s songs to begin with. Alt-J‘s “Tessellate” gets a much-needed seductive makeover with Chiddy Bang’s Xaphoon Jones on the beat, adding some sexy sax into the mix. The ’90s love song “How Long Will I Love You” by The Waterboys transforms into movie soundtrack gold, with Ellie almost inching into country music with her heartfelt rendition. Midnight Star’s upbeat “Midas Touch” gets a darker rewrite and goes from bouncy to beautiful (thanks to BURNS). A standout track on the 10-song addition is “Hearts On Chains,” which could’ve easily been a comeback single for Tori Amos, but it isn’t. It’s Ellie Goulding’s, and it proves that the UK siren can travel from acoustic to EDM and still sound like a seasoned expert at both.
At 28 tracks, Halcyon Days could feel like a lot for a casual fan, but there are enough hits on the collective project that there will be more familiar tracks by now than not. For those riding with Goulding since the days of her cover of Sam Sparro’s “Black And Gold,” this release is merely an extension of Ellie’s awesomeness and a sonic timeline through happiness, heartbreak and more happiness.
Best Song That Wasn’t the Single: Ellie’s cover of Midnight Star’s “Midas Touch” with BURNS. It’s dubby, it’s haunting and once again proves that Ellie Goulding can take on any song and make it sound (dare we say) better.
Best Listened To: While watching this video of Ellie dancing to the original version. Props to Starsmith for capturing this tender moment.
Idolator Score: 4/5
— Kathy Iandoli