Goulding builds on success of 'Lights'

Brit singer follows breakout hit with strong sophomore effort

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If you go

What: Ellie Goulding, in concert.

When: 9 p.m. Feb. 6.

Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland.

Cost: Sold out.

Information: 503-225-0047 or http://mcmenamins.com.

When the title song to Ellie Goulding's first album, "Lights," took off, reaching number two on "Billboard" magazine's all-format Hot 100 chart (and topping four other charts) this past August, it created a situation that can have a daunting side effect for an artist — expectations for what comes next.

Goulding, though, says she never felt the pressure of delivering on the success of "Lights" with her second album because she wasn't experiencing what it felt like to have a major multiformat hit single in the United States in the first place.

"'Lights' was a huge song, but I was still here. I was still in the U.K. writing," Goulding said in a mid-January phone interview. "I was kind of unattached from it. So it wasn't like I was there feeling it, feeling the fact that my song was big. I was here. So I think it made it easier for me to just crack on and write an album I wanted to write, as opposed to one that other people wanted me to write."

Goulding might not get another hit like "Lights" from her second album, "Halcyon." But her music on the new CD shows considerable growth, as her writing has become more ambitious and sophisticated.

"I've learned more about my writing and my singing, my voice, and I used my limitations and my strengths in the way I write lyrics and songs," she said.

But pressure or not, the "Halcyon" project came with its share of difficulties. Some stemmed from events in her personal life, which because her experiences inform her songwriting, had an impact on the second album.

"I suppose with 'Halcyon' I was in a place where I went through a breakup unexpectedly and I saw everything kind of change," Goulding said. "I started building almost like a sort of a potential life in London with this person and all of that stuff. So the second that dissolved, I was kind of like a bit of a free bird again, and I think that shaped 'Halcyon' quite a lot. 'Lights' was written when I was quite young, and I think it shows. It's still quite naive."

Goulding did not reveal which relationships she was talking about. But it's been widely reported that she dated a London DJ named Greg James for 18 months before they broke up at the end of 2011. Goulding then went on to date electronic artist Skrillex, but that relationship ended this past fall, with both artists saying that it was too difficult to maintain the kind of long-distance relationship necessitated by touring and other commitments to their music careers.

In any event, the emotional upheaval filtered into songs on "Halcyon," and Goulding said she can hear the confusion in her life in the songs.

Goulding, though, doesn't seem at all confused when it comes to her music. Now 26, she landed her U.K. record deal with Polydor in 2009 and released her first single, "Under the Sheets," that fall. She followed that with "Lights," which was released in the UK. in March 2010 and topped that country's album chart. The U.S. version of the album was released in February 2011 and then followed by a deluxe edition called "Bright Lights."

The "Lights" album was a pretty straightforward collection of danceable, electronic-flavored pop tunes.

She hasn't abandoned her synth/electronic sound on "Halcyon," but the second CD, which was released in October, is more mature and multifaceted than "Lights" and it shifts away from dance pop. In fact, the only full-fledged song in that vein is "Only You," which has the hooks to work on pop radio, and features imaginative sonic touches and a richer melody than much of the material on the "Lights" album.

Several other new songs, meanwhile, show even more growth from Goulding. For instance, "Figure 8" has an enticing sound created by its darkly hued melody and big, but deliberate, beat. "My Blood" has a symphonic sweep as it flows from understated to a full-bodied chorus complete with choirlike harmonies. Even a song like "Anything Could Happen," which starts out sounding like a modest, albeit catchy, dance-pop tune, takes sharp turns as it builds into a fairly epic anthem.

Goulding is spending January and early February in the states on a headlining tour. She said her show has benefited from her expanded repertoire and the richer range of music on "Halcyon."

"It's very different (from the "Lights" tour) because I have a whole new album to perform now," she said. "It's very different. Yeah, I guess because it's quite a leap from my first record, there's definitely a difference live. It's just a bit more full now. I don't know, it just seems like things make sense a bit more and everything's a bit more rounded and the whole production just feels a bit more certain now."