Final Rating: 5.6/10
Ashley Frangipane is only just a legal drinking adult now in the United States. She’s made a big noise with her E.P. Room 93 before most people know what to do in their post secondary education. Going by the name of Halsey, Frangipane has set herself up to deliver a debut album that will at least be noticed by the time she has her whole life ahead of her. That’s luck, right there. Her decision to create indie pop that can be interworked with whatever is bumping on the radio, though, was a clever decision.
Badlands, Halsey’s debut album, is laced with the same synthetic drugs Chvrches or Purity Ring would dip their music in. The production plays a combative co-singer that either drowns or pushes Halsey’s vocals. New Americana talks about marijuana, and you feel the effects that she is experiencing because of the oozing distortion below her, like lava erupting through the grated floor she is standing on. The worlds have been created with a lot of care here. The thing is, there may be a bit too much care. I can’t fault anyone for putting in their utmost efforts, but sometimes the piecing together can get in the way of the spirit of the songs. Badlands sounds less like the emotional wastelands after an apocalypse and more like the planning of how it’ll go before it happens. The beauty of synthpop is that it can evoke digital ghosts that are yanked out of us living, flesh clad human beings. The short song Colors Pt. II does this exactly so, but it comes and goes before Strange Love’s carefully plotted blueprints come and remove any sense of wonder.
Halsey can put together sounds, and she can do that with complexity. What Halsey needs to learn is how these sounds sonically interact with one another. What does the reverb on top, of which wobbles and pulsates, do to the vocals and the beat underneath? If the answer is nothing, it just ends up being a sound that takes up space. As mentioned before, some sounds drown out her vocals which can be a good thing at times. It creates atmosphere and depth. Aside from that, she has personal lyrics that don’t feel they are being matched by the production. She has haunting sounds surrounding her (which, frankly the greatest example of this is the Salem-like choir in intro track Castle and the various vocal effects in Young God). Many songs, like Control and Hurricane will burst with sounds that are meant to chill but they sit at room temperature instead.
This is a personal record for Halsey, and she truly cares about getting her emotions out there. However, on Badlands, they kind of just wallow in a stagnant pool. Her singing is charming and at times kind of soothing, and even the songs that obviously use autotune don’t feel as though they are getting in the way. However, Badlands is clearly trying to set up moods and scenes, and they feel more like a film where the CGI is obvious than they do a film where you forget that you’re looking at fake imagery. The hard work is present, but it feels both too polished and too under polished at the same time. The work went into clarity but not nourishing. Badlands is an honest first effort from Halsey, and her ideas are in the right place. However, for her next release, if she were to inject the soul she carries for her lyrics into the music, it may have a better pay off.