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Ellie Goulding, Halcyon (Interscope) 

When the pop charts are largely dominated by plasticine constructs like Katy Perry and bargain "street divas" like Pink, Ellie Goulding is a true bright spot. Some pop connoisseurs want to spend their time listening to music that's more adult-minded than the perfectly adorable but juvenile songs of Carly Rae Jepsen or Taylor Swift (whose latest single, actually, is jarringly Perry-esque in its nasal staccato verses), so in between Robyn albums, we need people like Goulding putting out records. Goulding's voice has an earthy, warm sound that feels almost radical when put up against the sterile carping of people like Perry and Pink.

Halcyon, the full-length follow-up to 2010's Lights (whose title track is still lodged toward the top of the Billboard Hot 100), might never reach the great heights of music from someone like Robyn, but it does offer well-constructed, danceable pop. It's also eclectic, featuring songs that have a manic Broadway-inspired intensity, like "Anything Could Happen" (a bit of an odd choice for the lead single); ethereal club-pop like the album's best song, "Only You"; and glum—practically apocalyptic—barnburners like "Figure 8." Goulding even channels her inner Joni Mitchell on the sublime ballad "Joy."

Goulding—who co-wrote and co-produced almost every track on Halcyon—could be the person to open the door for off-chart pop up-and-comers like Ladyhawke, Lights and Florrie (none of whom have really broken through in the U.S. yet) and dethrone the franchise-pop creations taking up their spots.

More by Sean Bottai

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