Ellie Goulding’s voice is an odd, unexpected thing. Smoky and fairylike, it rasps like a soul singer one minute and flutters with a folk singer’s vibrato the next. The low notes are delivered with a sort of hoarse swagger, but Miss Goulding nails her higher notes like she’s ringing a bell, landing on the pitch for the briefest of moments before moving on to sing something else, with the high note still echoing through the rafters.
A mix of electronic pop songs, futuristic ballads and ethereal dance tunes, “Halcyon” makes the most of that peerless voice. This is an unconventional album, steeped in mainstream pop music but willing to explore tangents, too, like New Age and trip-hop. Miss Goulding pieces together her backing tracks with synthesizers and electronic samples, throwing the occasional organic instrument — a harp here, a cello there — into the mix. In a genre filled with auto-tuned singers such as Britney Spears, Miss Goulding’s voice sounds raw and natural, a human element surrounded by electronics.
Even the best voices need good songs to show them off, however, and those that fill “Halcyon” — the anthemic “Anything Could Happen,” the harmony-drenched “My Blood,” the atmospheric gospel-pop of “Dead in the Water” — are first-rate, designed by the album’s small army of producers to ebb and flow. The choruses are gigantic, like skyscrapers towering above the musical fairyland that “Halcyon” conjures up, and there’s a sort of brainy quality to even the most danceable tunes, as though they were written for nightclub attendees who want to discuss arrangements and instrumentation while dancing.
It takes a few listens to realize that “Halcyon” is basically a breakup album, filled with songs that exorcise the memory of an ex-boyfriend. “You show me what it feels like to be lonely; you show me what it feels like to be lost,” goes the title track. If “Halcyon” sounds more optimistic than other breakup records, though, it’s because Miss Goulding has written her best batch of songs yet. Celebratory and unpredictable, this might be the best pop album of 2012.
Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are the only original members still onboard, but “Monster,” Kiss’ 20th studio album, feels like something from the band’s mid-‘70s heyday. Recorded onto analog tape, it’s a thick-sounding, bighearted record about partying and loving, performed with a surprising amount of ferocity by musicians who are now in their early 60s.
With Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer filling the spots left vacant by Peter Criss and Ace Frehley, “Monster” roars from start to finish. Longtime fans will point out the obvious parallels to earlier eras — “Wall of Sound” and the metallic “Freak” both model themselves after the band’s 1992 album, “Revenge,” while “Hell or Hallelujah” boogies like a 1970s classic — but “Monster” won’t make you pine for a time long since past. Instead, it’ll restore your faith in the band’s 2012 reboot.
Danny O’Donoghue is a judge on the British version of “The Voice,” a small piece of trivia that speaks volumes about his band’s newest album. With its soaring melodies, clean production and hip-hop flourishes, “#3” is a textbook example of a mainstream pop album, right down to the guest appearance by will.i.am. It’s almost as though the boys in the Script have been reading … well, a script.
The will.i.am song, “Hall of Fame,” is already a chart-topping hit overseas, and a handful of other songs could easily follow suit. Mr. O’Donoghue, who spends each episode of “The Voice” telling young singers how to become mainstream stars, clearly knows how to distill the popular sounds of 2012 — the scat-sing style of Jason Mraz, the soaring uplift of Coldplay, the PG-rated ballads of OneRepublic — into a 40-minute album.
“#3” never deviates from the pop-rock playbook, though, which makes it a predictable and hollow record. Now familiar with dispensing advice, Mr. O’Donoghue tells his younger listeners to “be students, be teachers, be politicians, be preachers, be believers” during “Hall of Fame.” He never tells them to be themselves, though; a clue perhaps to this album’s own fatal flaw. In an effort to sound like everyone else, “The Script” loses its own identity.