I can’t help but be wary whenever approaching a live album or EP. Stripping an artist from the comfort of the recording studio often produces lacklustre results, either due to a vocalist’s lack of singing capability or simply an over-emphasis on stage presence (which obviously doesn’t carry over to a purely auditory format). Despite these concerns, Halsey’s Spotify Sessions is an effectively delivered collection of live performances.
When listening to Halsey’s debut album Badlands (released last year), the distinctive hook derives from the refreshing fusion of the solo artist’s delicate soprano with an industrial electronic-pop production. Spotify Sessions opts to expose a different side of Halsey’s musicality by stripping away the sweeping production backings in favour of a minimalist presentation consisting of only electronic percussion and piano. This calculated shift in style also moves the listener’s attention from focusing on the expansive productions to simply appreciating Halsey’s unique voice, which soars remarkably above the two-piece backing.
Whilst the instrumentation and performances are strong, it must be noted that the track-listing is a bit disappointing. Badlands contained some incredibly well-composed songs (even if the lyrics border on gratingly stereotypical of Tumblr users in their early-twenties) such as ‘Colors’, ‘New Americana’ and ‘Gasoline’. I can only imagine how wonderfully ethereal or powerful these tracks would have sounded in the context of this live performance, as ‘Ghost’ and ‘Hurricane’ don’t shimmer in the way they did on the original album. This unfortunate choice in set-list is possibly more disappointing for someone who has listened to the complete album, as Halsey is a strong songwriter, and this isn’t showcased in the four track EP.
I think the finest qualitative aspect to this EP is the fact that it genuinely surprised me. Listening to Halsey’s previous work, one could be forgiven for thinking that her vocal abilities weren’t outstanding. Her songs are written using a relatively small vocal range, and the densely-layered electronic style allows her vocals to weave throughout the backing and, dare I say, hide a little. Using the aforementioned minimal instrumentation grants her voice a new format to project: instead of relying on vocal quirks, such as ending many phrases with unintentional squeaks (e.g. in the chorus of ‘New Americana’), we hear Halsey hit those higher notes powerfully and, most importantly, perform with intelligence. She doesn’t push herself outside of her range and sings using a connected, consistent tone, while delivering an appropriate level of emotion. It is truly a joy to sit and listen to, as her vocal talents elevate this collection beyond all expectations.