Ellie Goulding: Lights (Album Review)

Lights is the debut album released on March 1 by Ellie Goulding, the 23-year-old British electro-pop chanteuse recently awarded with (or damned with, depending on your interpretation) the title of BBC’s Sound of 2010 Artist.

The distinction stems from a list compiled at the start of each year by the broadcasting network responsible for predicting the next movers and shakers in the industry (Little Boots topped the list in 2009; Adele in 2008).

With the title also comes a responsibility to deliver, something that has always seemed to plague the shortlisted winners with an impossible amount of criticism and hype before their debut ever reaches shelves.

Luckily, Ellie Goulding can officially breathe a sigh of relief.

Lights is a buoyant, fluttery album complete with ten numbers that flow together effortlessly, all tied together with Goulding’s signature child-like warble that falls somewhere in between Joanna Newsom and a far less moody Lily Allen; strong for belting, though often fragile enough to shatter into pieces at the end of each of her word’s syllables.

The cohesive quality of Lights can be largely credited to its main producer, Starsmith, a newcomer to the mainstream music scene as well. The two established a wonderful working relationship together (as seen in the ever-increasing number of YouTube videos recorded together), lending itself to the strong collection of tracks that became the singer’s debut. The producer’s work on Lights is as much responsible for Goulding’s skyrocketing to fame as it is his own, now producing for a variety of major ticket acts including Cheryl Cole and Diana Vickers.

“Starry Eyed” and “Under the Sheets,” the album’s two lead singles, are undoubtedly the album’s strongest offerings: the former, a hectic explosion of twinkling sounds and jittery vocal tics that won the blogosphere’s approval as one of Goulding’s first offerings to the public; the latter a brilliant, kaleidoscopic mesh of plodding drums and exasperated cries of “We’re under the sheets, and you’re killing me!” that easily trumped most of the other pop singles released last year.

While it’s true that there aren’t many obvious standouts on the record, the fact doesn’t take away from the album’s plentiful successes. “This Love (Will Be Your Downfall)” is probably the album’s greatest triumph apart from its singles, as Ellie goes through the motions of a relationship: “This love is be and end all / This love will be your downfall,” she warns throughout the glittering, dance-ready chorus.

The spectacular combination of synth-pop, vocal layering and dramatic strings grant “Your Biggest Mistake” some of the catchiest riffs and brightest melodies of the bunch. Later on, during the chilly longing of “Wish I Stayed,” Ellie touches down to Earth in the song’s echoed introduction and prompts: “Why can’t we speak another language, one we all agree on? Why when men look outside, they see houses, instead of the fields they grew from?”

Goulding’s debut is an honest, delicate collection of flowing ambient pop that doesn’t fill the airwaves with messy gobs of loud instrumentation–a welcome addition to counter the increasingly busy sound of pop in 2010. While the album may not produce any gigantic radio hits, there are still plenty of wonderful, heaven-sent sounds and melodies here to keep Lights burning bright long after the first play.

Click here to purchase Lights.

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