Thursday, August 27, 2015

Badlands | Halsey



Welcome to the inner workings of viral alt-pop phenomenon Halsey; welcome to the Badlands"There are some here I love, some who fear me, and some who wish I was dead. I didn’t ask for this. No one asks for this. You’re born into it. You grow up oblivious and sheltered, and one day the evil realities of this place hit you square between the eyes like a perfectly aimed bullet," she tells us in a trailer to her debut album, a follow-up to her Room 93 extended play. While Room 93 followed misfortunes and happenings in a hotel suite, this album is shaped from a brand new concept: it is an 11-track journey through Halsey's own dystopia - an evil, rundown area that metaphorically represents the depths of her own mind. The trailer's overdone monologue foreshadows the melodrama about to unfold as we venture through the dirty streets of the Badlands.

Argued to be a competing record label's manufactured counterpart to Interscope's Lana Del Rey, Halsey attempts to embody everything that rebellious outcasts are meant to be: she gets high on amphetamines, trips on LSD, writes stories in the fog of windows after fucking on a bathroom sink, has one-night stands, hopes to make it to age 28... the list goes on and on. A feisty little ball of vulnerability, angst, and rebellion, she is. A few times, I could grab her and tell her that enough is enough, that we completely get the wayward point she tries to drive home. But you know, in a world where the lyrics to some of our most popular songs right now read along the lines of "watch me whip, now watch me nae nae" and "I'm like, 'Hey, what's up? Hello.' / Seen your pretty ass soon as you came in the door," Halsey definitely isn't the worst lyricist on the block. In fact, her lyrics are so fluffed-up and pleasing to the ears that I am willing to excuse a majority of the clich├ęs weaved into them.

Lead single "Hold Me Down" features what are arguably the best lyrics of the album. Over the strangely-paced beat and gritty synths of the song, she sings, "My demons are begging me to open up my mouth / I need them, mechanically make the words come out / They fight me, vigorous and angry, watch them pounce / Ignite me, licking up the flame they bring about." When the fan-favorite selection "Colors" builds up to its billowing chorus, we hear Halsey poetically recite, "You're dripping like a saturated sunrise, you're spilling like an overflowing sink / You're ripped at every edge but you're a masterpiece, and now I'm tearing through the pages and the ink."  And as try-hard as the chorus of "New Americana" could be perceived (it's actually a satirical song, if you lot haven't looked into a few Halsey interviews), it offers some substance in its verses: "Young James Dean, some say he looks just like his father / But he could never love somebody's daughter / Football team, loved more than just the game / So he vowed to be his husband at the alter." Her lyrics are aesthetically pleasing, if nothing else, eh? There are nine other pretty songs, both with and without a few cringe-worthy themes, stocked on the album for your listening pleasure.

Brooding, intricate productions, enveloping choruses, and Halsey's semi-raspy vocals are the driving forces that keep the album alive; "Ghost" and "Hurricane," tracks that found their way over to Badlands from Room 93, should have been bellwethers of those facts a long time ago. She and her producers craft immersive atmospheres that wash over listeners like high tides over sandy beaches.  "Drive" is the musical equivalent to a lonely midnight drive out of the city, complete with car sound effects that are believable up until some tacky tire squeals. The same goes for "Coming Down," another song that is given automobile ambiance and carries a subtle acoustic touch without losing consistency with the rest of the tracks. "Haunting" and "Roman Holiday" are the best examples of skillful production to bring extraordinary life to her work. The former opens with a looped vocal pattern that runs throughout as the song slowly blossoms into a driving, hopeless plead, while the latter's layers of smoky vocals and heavy synthesizers emit the radiance of a warm summer day.

Admittedly, she does tap into the same "part-Tumblr aesthetic, part-dark alt-pop, part-mainstream success" role as Del Rey, but that's why this album works so well and is forecast to sell (and stream) upwards of 75,000 copies in the United States. As a girl who gained fame via YouTube cover videos and is only 20 years old, she knows what the kids are into on the Interweb. (Hell, I'm sure that she still is a kid listening to the newest in viral pop when not making tunes of her own.) Tumblr activists and young aspiring hipsters make for a dedicated cult following, but as a whole, they pick and choose who they latch onto very carefully. Halsey covered all the bases to ensure success, taking hints from Lana Del Rey's bad girl pout, Lorde's sophisticated teen shtick, Banks' gracefully-tongued tales of love and heartbreak, and Miley Cyrus' no-fucks-given attitude, to name a few. She doesn't show signs of one who was "raised on Biggie and Nirvana," but instead, she represents those who grew up with a wide array of solid pop and alt-pop music at their fingertips; she is a key player in a second-generation wave of Internet-era alt-pop phenomena. With her cross-breeding of so many influences, it's no wonder Badlands has attracted such a wide audience.

Despite a few laughable lyrical themes (whether meant to be ironic or not) and a strong reliance on her influences, Halsey delivers a likable debut album with some room to grow later. (Luckily, she saved some of her most underwhelming songs - "Strange Love" and "I Walk the Line," in particular - for a deluxe pressing of Badlands, making for a stronger standard album.) Understandably, some listeners may not be able to get over the fact that her influences are very close to being considered her contemporaries, but perhaps I don't have a problem with it due to the proximity of age and music tastes between Halsey and me; if I possessed the skill to produce my own music, I could imagine it to sound something like hers. Any and all complaints aside, the dense soundscapes and malleable vocals of Badlands have the undeniable power to transport a listener to a dreamy alternate universe, even if only for forty minutes.

Badlands will be released on August 28, 2015 under Astralwerks Records. Alongside a standard edition of the album, an exclusive deluxe edition be found at Target and an exclusive vinyl pressing can be found at Urban Outfitters.

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