by EJ Coleman
We aren’t supposed to go to the Badlands, but Halsey brings us there anyway and we let ourselves be taken.
In her debut album, BADLANDS, the electropop singer-songwriter also known as Ashley Frangipane aims to show us a place where neon replaces sunlight and every surface is grimy with desert sand. The anticipation for Halsey’s first album has been growing since her EP Room 93 was released last October and, luckily, BADLANDS‘ cinematic instrumentals and emotive lyrics don’t disappoint.
Like any good concept album, BADLANDS transports you. It’s a series of scenes out of a movie; the aerial shot of a city at night that zooms into our protagonist in “Castle,” the lovers meeting in an dimly lit alley in “Strange Love,” the convertible full of friends driving down the highway in “New Americana,” the bridge collapsing under the feet of the heroes as they try to run away in “Young God.” The feeling of isolation that fuels Room 93 is built into the Badlands, where every song is a moment that exists separately from each other, but still flows together with the others.
This storytelling aspect is especially evident in the deluxe version of the album (which I wholehearted recommend you get so you don’t miss out on songs like “Gasoline” and “Strange Love” especially), which has a slightly different order than the regular release. Despite the fact that they both consist of mostly the same tracks, the two versions tell slightly different stories, each poetic in their own right. Where some concept albums have set characters and storylines, BADLANDS gives you the same thing without faces, making it even easier to connect with Halsey’s at times haunting voice. The situations told in the songs are specific, true, but with a hazy feeling like you’ve stumbled upon a mirage in the desert.
If you only listen to one song from this album, though, let it be “Control.” This song (mainly about Halsey’s struggles with bipolar disorder) is the epitome of BADLANDS; autonomous moving background parts that work together seamlessly, visceral vocals, and raw lyrics like, “I couldn’t stand the person inside me, I turned all the mirrors around.” The ticking clock and tinkling music box woven between synth parts adds to the dreamlike quality of song, fitting in seamlessly with the rest of the album. “Control” combines the best qualities of every other track and yet still stands out from the rest of the striking songs.
With this only being Halsey’s first album, it’s a little terrifying to think of what could come next, and a little more than exciting as well. BADLANDS is not perfect, no, and there are some moments where the energy of the album seems to drag, but it’s an amazing piece of art in and of itself and an exciting sign of what is to come not only from Halsey, but from music as a whole. BADLANDS is depth and empty highways that stretch on into the future and, like the song goes, “all we do is drive”.