"You should be scared of me. Who is in control?!" Halsey, born Ashley Frangipane, cries out rather feverishly on her devilish Control track, a Badlands wasteland of haunting electricity and aggressive grittiness. Her debut album is bigger than anything she could have imagined—enlisting the masterminds of LA-based duo The Futuristics (known for their work with Chris Brown, Cody Simpson and Bruno Mars), Ryan Lott (stage name Son Lux; credits with Sisyphus, Nathan Johnson, eighth blackbird) and Norwegian rapper, songwriter and producer Lido, the resulting 16 dirty, raw, sexually-energetic songs chronicle her youthful escapades and journey into adulthood. Raised in a New Jersey world, where her African-American father and Italian-American mother did what they needed to do just to survive, the former YouTube creator's upbringing elicits visions of a fleeting reality, soaked with drugs, sex and rock 'n roll. "Kids I grew up with are going off to college, having threesomes in bathrooms and 'vaping' beer, but I went through my sex, drugs, loss and existential confusion phase at 17," she tells Billboard. It is that compelling existentialism that manifests itself like a 10-ton hammer on Badlands, with the producer work polishing the record with gripping electronics and bleeding freedom into her lyrics. Her headspace, too, as she comes to terms with her body, is sketched out in haunting detail. Halsey's debut full player follows the equally-rounded Room 93 EP (released last fall and following her buzz worthy showcase at SXSW).
Her hand-drawn portrait is one of societal rebellion (New Americana), as it relates to personal redemption and sexual awakening (Hold Me Down, Hurricane). Her ties are often religious, too, as a medium through which she sharpens her perception of the world. Binding together unforgiving, even foolish, martyrdom (Coming Down, Strange Love), the 20-year-old pieces together a declaration of addiction and sacrifice. "These violent delights have violent ends" reads the tattoo on her right arm (a line from Romeo & Juliet): written in elegant, sweeping typography and a manifesto of her own unraveling and addicting novel. She sees people in vivid Colors, as drugs induce kaleidoscopic images of sorrow and loss drenched with intoxicating love and hope. She stains together atmospheric rock with frosty pop edges (Roman Holiday is quite the Lana Del Rey-Tove Lo fusion), and there is never a moment on Badlands that doesn't throb in the veins like a needle (Young God, Castle). Her highly personal stories make for a dreamy, out-of-body experience that is glued together with sexually-arresting images like "Could you imagine the taste of your lips if we never tried to kiss on the drive to Queens? 'Cause I imagine the weight of your ribs if you lied between my hips in the backseat," she coos on Roman Holiday. Her proclivity for detailed sexual encounters feeds her monstrous need to understand herself.
Her raw vocal, too, heightens the urgency with which she bares her soul on truly unexpected and pounding melodies (Gasoline, Ghost). She twists together her influences, which range from Nirvana and Alanis Morissette to the Cure, Tupac and Slick Rick, into a damaging wind of euphoria. "My hands wrapped around your stick shift, swerving on the 405, I can never keep my eyes off this. My neck, the feeling of your soft lips illuminated in the light, bouncing off the exit signs I missed," Drive is an exceptional piece decorated with the sound of the engine's hum, burning rubber and a windy artistic admission. She keeps her vision open wide throughout the record, allowing the authoritative artist to stretch her imagination with dexterity into soul-jarring moments (Coming Down). Even her Johnny Cash cover, the spacey I Walk the Line is a textured needlework of oscillating R&B and soul and is so forceful that it lowers the curtain with impressive craftsmanship. At its core, Badlands is a character study of every teenager or young adult who has struggled to come to terms with their own physical cravings and bewitching enslavements.
Must-Listen Tracks: Roman Holiday, Colors, Young God, Control
Grade: 4 out of 5
Make sure you grab a copy of Halsey's Badlands on Apple Music today!