Adam Young hasn’t played in my bedroom since I stopped being fourteen and Hello, Seattle stopped making me nostalgic and started making me want to take a brick to the recording studio that signed this twenty-six year old musician. The release of his latest album, the midsummer station, prompted me to revisit Owl City, the secret obsession of my early adolescent years.
The first track, “Dreams and Disasters”, is very reminiscent of the first track on Arcade Fire’s Suburbs album – the idea of a road trip, with cheap reggaeton overlays and a tinny twang that ads an otherworldly vibe to simple lyrics is good-hearted, if not substantial. A sugary pop version of “Uprising“ by Muse, it’s not a bad start to an album.
“Shooting Star“ is a letdown. A male version of Katy Perry’s “Firework“, lyrics like “fill the darkest night with a brilliant light; cause it’s time for you to shine” are repeated over and over again while strange alien reverberations echo in the far-off distance of mono-recorded audio.
After Flo Rida’s famous intro to “Whistle“, the cringe factor at the beginning of “Gold“ does not wane as it fades into a pseudo-gritty street beat. “Shoutout to the dreams you’ll chase” and the lyrics following remind me of a little internet treasure. Maybe it’s just the smart-aleck fourteen year old lurking inside of me saying this, but I’m doubtful that you’ve got gold inside of you if you’re going to break lots of hearts – maybe you’ve got some fake gold earrings you bought with your allowance, but that’s about it.
“Dementia” is simple. Aside from a poor SAT vocab studying tool as it draws comparisons between the neurological disorder and heartbreak, it’s an equation that looks something like this: rock + glittery synth + bass line from seventh grade jazz band.
The message behind ”I’m Coming After You” is nothing if not a little disturbing Starting with the lyric: “I saw your face in a criminal sketch – don’t be alarmed ‘cause you don’t know me ye,” the track teaches one important life lesson: stalking is cute if you’ve got a sweet synth. “You got the right to remain right here with me” is a poor recitation of 21 jump street’s famous malapropism. Does Young like bad girls who actually have to run from the cops? Maybe.
“Speed of Love” opens with that horrible power-up sound that leads to a weak bass drop that every hardstyle fan loathes. I won’t tell a lie; it’s catchy. Really catchy. Like One Direction’s “Stole My Heart“. Does Adam Young know he’s referencing John Steinbeck’s use of the oversoul in his songs, always coming back to one heart, one love?
“Good Time” (feat Carly Rae Jepsen) doesn’t need an explanation. We’ve all heard it. Many times. Every time more awful than the last.
If you’d like an audio version of a metaphor taken too far, “Embers” is just for you. Complete with a cog-turning background effect that becomes grating within the first fifteen seconds, the eighth track is nothing spectacular.
The most emotional piece on the album is “Silhouette“, and with the first few chords on an actual piano, I had high hopes. A melancholy tune with the references to stars and beginnings that gave Owl City it’s leap to fame, the lyrics aren’t all sugar. “Is it over yet? Will I ever feel again?” The minor key brings out the sincerity in these lines that is not duplicated again on the album.
With all the melodrama of a Greek romance, “Take it All Away“ sends this message to millions of prepubescent girls. If you get dumped, you’ll probably die alone. Yet another song perpetuates the desolation of friendzoning with the line “I felt a pain in my chest with your kiss on my cheek”.
Stylistically, Young hasn’t changed – fundamentally, he is a grown man with some neat built-in synth beats and a voice distorter that sounds like he’s speaking througha kazoo. What has changed are his “add-ins”. Imagine your favorite local ice cream (or frozen yogurt, since that seems to be the hip thing for you young Iowa City folk) locale with its plethora of goodies to stir into your frozen treat. Some are delicious, some are not. Some sound like they would be incredible, but alas – blueberries and caramel were simply not meant to be.