Track by Track Music review: “Badlands” by Halsey


Halsey, Badlands album.

Daniel Williamson, Staff Writer

On August 28, 2015 up and coming indie pop artist Ashley Frangipane, commonly known by her stage name, Halsey, released her debut album, “Badlands.”

Last year Halsey put out an EP named “Room 93” that included five songs, two of which, “Ghost” and “Hurricane,” are also featured on “Badlands.” Leading up to the album’s release Halsey performed live at music festivals and on tours with The Kooks, Young Rising Suns and Imagine Dragons, singing songs from both her EP and songs set to be on “Badlands.”

This past summer she released studio versions of “Hold Me Down” and “New Americana,” both of which she performed live on tour, as singles for “Badlands” along with a new song, “Drive.” And at the end of August Halsey’s fans rejoiced to finally hear studio versions of several songs that had only been heard live in videos on YouTube previously.

Please note that this review is for the deluxe version of the album. There will be an asterisk next to the songs that are exclusive to this variation.

“Castle” The album opens with a very energetic tone with this song that Halsey previously performed live. It opens up with some chilling, ominous tones along with a heavenly choir chanting “Agnus Dei” in the first verse. The chorus drops with a beat as she sings about heading straight to a palace to become the kingdom’s queen while an old man on the throne is patronizing her, telling her that she “shouldn’t be so mean” and “keep her pretty mouth shut.” Overall, the song has a strong confident vibe that is empowering and reflective.

“Hold Me Down” The second song of the album was also the first single released and performed live at Halsey’s tours as well. The song’s lyrics describe what it is like to be spoken down to and made to feel small, and its music has a very bubbly dance sound. This song is also very song-willed and spirited, giving the listener a confident attitude.

“New Americana” This song was also released as a single and performed live before the “Badlands” was available. It discusses how the new generation will take over the country and with them bring a new mindset that is open to the idea of same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization. “New Americana” acts as anthem for young people born in or after 1990 that were “raised on Biggie and Nirvana” and ready for the world to change as they become the leaders of it.

“Drive” When “Drive” was released as a single it was very new to Halsey’s fans because it wasn’t performed live beforehand. The song is a reflective and thought-provoking in its lyrics and is accompanied with eerie music and car sounds added to the background. The last chorus of the song becomes a duet with her producer and ex-boyfriend, Norwegian artist Lido.

“Hurricane”* This song is very familiar to people that listened to Halsey before “Badlands,” because it was on her EP. Its lyrics tell the story of a guy that is trying to take advantage of girl, who ends up standing up for her dignity and independence by saying that she “don’t belong to no city, don’t belong to no man.” All in all, the song empowers the audience to be free.

“Roman Holiday” While this song was performed live by Halsey previously the studio version starts off with shimmery and shiny beats. The lyrics describe what it is like to be a romantic relationship in which the couple is adventurous travelers that are dying to get away from it all on a vacation. The romance of the lyrics combined with the majestic music gives the song a strong fairy-tale vibe.

“Ghost” Similarly to “Hurricane,” this was also a part of the “Room 93” EP, making it a familiar track to long-time listeners. The song explains what it is like to be in a relationship with someone that is there physically but not emotionally; how it feels to be in love with someone, but not fully have those feelings be reciprocated. It is a very emotive song for people to listen to.

“Colors” The studio version of this song became highly anticipated when videos of live performances went up on YouTube earlier this year. It gives a rundown of what one goes through when they’re experiencing a break up, but still holding on to their romantic feelings for their ex-lover. The song is definitely the most emotional one on the album lyrically. Especially with the fan favorite line: “You were red and you liked me because I was blue. But you touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky. And you decided purple just wasn’t for you.” The studio version does not disappoint, it is just as good, if not better than the live version in music quality.

“Colors pt. II”* This short minute and a half long track serves as an interlude to the album as a whole. It is essentially a remix of “Colors,” and replays the line “Everything is blue,” with trippy beats and melodies. While some might have been anticipating a new song with original and completely different lyrics, this track still holds up on its own and serves a nice halfway point for the record.

“Strange Love”* Along with “Colors pt. II” and some later tracks, “Strange Love” made its debut on this album and has never been performed live before. The song describes how Halsey feels about being questioned about her love life and how she doesn’t have to tell anyone anything, no matter how much attention her and her lover receive. It has an overall spit-fire and sultry vibe that the listener will find liberating.

“Coming Down” A few days leading up to “Badlands” coming out Halsey leaked this track on to her SoundCloud since she herself couldn’t even stand the wait of the album’s release. That aside, this track starts off with the same windshield wiper sound that “Drive” ends with that sounds like the two tracks were meant to be one if listened to back to back. The lyrics tell the story of finding good and evil in one’s lover with soft-toned music that adds to the importance and intimacy of the song.

“Haunting” This song was also performed live at Halsey’s concerts earlier this year, but the studio version on the album definitely adds to the song as a whole. It paints a picture of someone begging for someone that they have ties with to keep on haunting them, despite moving on to someone better. The background melodies and vocals that come along with the studio version just enhance the listening experience of this beautiful song.

“Gasoline”* Just like “Strange Love” and “Colors Pt. II,” this song also made its debut on “Badlands.” Since its release it is also quickly becoming a favorite among Halsey’s fans. The song describes what it is like to feel disconnected from mainstream society as a whole and not fitting to cookie cutter molds; being surrounded by “machines” that conform to please other people for happiness since they are “low on self-esteem.” The song contains many dubstep-like beats as well as koto-sounding melodies and an allusion to “Hurricane.” This track definitely makes the deluxe version of the album worth buying.

“Control” Along with “Colors,” “Control” also became a fan favorite after live performance videos hit the web. This song explores the idea of not always playing both the protagonist and villain in a story, going back and forth from being in control of one’s anger and temper to succumbing and embracing it. In that sense this song is the most nuanced one on the album. The intense music added to the studio version makes it even better than the live version.

“Young God” This song also debuted on “Badlands.” It opens with the line: “Forever cursed in love are the observant. Forever a slave to the detail,” in reverse. From that point on the song discusses what is like to be an extremely passionate relationship romantically, sensually, and physically. It basically describes how when feels invincible when in love. The song’s music and beats add to its already present mysterious and introspective vibe.

“I Walk the Line”* This short cover song, originally performed by Johnny Cash, closes the album. While it isn’t an original song, it doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning as Cash’s version. In Cash’s, the refrain, “I walk the line,” was used in the context of walking the straight and narrow. This rendition, however, is applied to the overall story of “Badlands” and Halsey’s romantic relationship(s), she feels like she is walking on a tight-rope, trying very hard to be steady and please her partner. The track closes the album out nicely.

Rating: 5/5 stars
“Badlands” is without a doubt one of the greatest albums, if not the best album, of 2015.  From start to end, each song featured something unique and special with its lyrics and most of the time with its sounds as well. While songs like “I Walk the Line” and “Coming Down” aren’t my favorite, they’re still amazing lyrically and musically. Those along with stand-out tracks such as “Gasoline,” “Control,” “Drive” and “Colors,” make the album worth buying. “Gasoline” alone makes the deluxe version worth buying. Over “Badlands” should be one album you listen to this year.