Ellie Goulding emerged in 2010 with a one-two punch: first, her (still-rising) helium-voiced hit "Lights," then, an elegant read of Elton John's "Your Song" that led to a gig at Prince William's wedding. As Cinderella stories go, it's a good one. But as a 25-year-old adept who dresses rave-y hooks in folk-rock tunefulness and art-pop filigree, Goulding earned her glass slippers.
Halcyon, her second LP, pumps up her sound as befitting a court musician. The single "Anything Could Happen" has the London Community Gospel Choir swooping around staccato piano and club beats; elsewhere she's multitracked into a one-woman choir. If the songwriting doesn't quite measure up to U.K. art-pop divas like Kate Bush, the hooks always go to town, and her voice – Dolly Parton-dazzling in the upper register – mates gorgeously with electronics, swirling around itself on the title track, morphing through synthscapes on "Don't Say a Word." "I Need Your Love," a bangin' collab with Scottish rave-op master Calvin Harris (Rihanna's "We Found Love"), gets slotted as a "bonus cut," maybe to avoid confusing the more genteel fans. But Goulding's magic is in her multitasking. And if she really gets busy with current paramour Skrillex, things could get even more interesting.
Listen to "Anything Could Happen":