REVIEW: Owl City – ‘The Midsummer Station’
By: Ben Norman
Owl City, a.k.a. Adam Young, has made the leap. The running start he gained with his debut track, “Fireflies,” had primed him for the kind of stardom that few in his position achieve. Think about it. Male pop stardom is usually achieved at a young age, after acquiring “heartthrob” status. Hair trends, public attention to your relationship status, dance moves… all these factor highly into single male pop stars’ resumes. And yet, here is Owl City, a soft-voiced synth pop artist with longing in his heart and vulnerability in his music, launching his name beyond one-hit wonder status and possibly into the list of artists that define this musical era (or have been defined by it). So what exactly has Owl City got going for himself that others don’t?
The factor that made Young’s music so accessible upon his mainstream debut was likability. No matter what he looked like, his unassuming voice, easygoing lyrics, and soft yet unforgettable music instantly endeared him to audiences. This is a key factor that is sometimes incredibly easy to forget. No matter how funky the outfits, how racy the lyrics, or how public the persona is, if people don’t like you, you’re dead in the water. And ultimately that factor is what made the lead single to Owl City’s 2012 album The Midsummer Station so appealing. “Good Time”, frankly, isn’t an Owl City song. At least, not by former standards. The pulsing dance track featuring the fresh-faced and incredibly forward-yet-coy-about-it Carly Rae Jepsen is the type of track that ensures immediate attention. The lyrics are simple, inane, set in the “here and now,” and thematically settle on the everpresent party. The track is designed to be enjoyed, regardless of who performs it, and yet Young still brings that underdog vibe to it, as if he is almost ironically representing his own rising star yet convinced he is going nowhere at the same time.
“Good Time” may be the most highly tailored track for the mainstream on The Midsummer Station, but don’t be fooled, 50% of the album plays almost exactly the same way- minus the use of a guest vocalist. The album practically leaps from the first synth shimmer of the opening track, “Dreams and Disasters,” twinkling across similar party tracks “Shooting Star,” and “I’m Coming After You.” Additional high octane tracks “Speed of Love” and “Metropolis” add a twist to the mix with melodic varieties. “Speed of Love” almost sounds like the sequel to Deepest Blue’s self-titled 2006 track, while “Metropolis” has more of a moonlit Arabian city vibe. As much fun as all of this music is, the fact that anyone could have made these tracks is hard to ignore.
Not all of the album is a pumping party, in fact, while some of the more downbeat tracks are still custom-tailored for the radio, they take different paths than the previously mentioned songs. “Gold” and “Take It All Away” feature bleacher stomp/handclap combos at a slower interval, both emulating OneRepublic to their best ability. There’s some pop/rock on the album as well in the form of “Dementia” and “Embers,” both tracks on which Young vocally excels. And the slowest, most pensive track on the album, “Silhouette,” is a highlight with its graceful piano.
It’s hard to love an album where a singer’s identity disappears in the process, and parts of The Midsummer Station teeters dangerously close on the edge of that precipice. Luckily, Owl City still sounds like Owl City, just with more of a kick. While it would be great to see a return to the style of “Fireflies,” at least with this album, you can still enjoy the artist as his style changes. Personal favorites include “Speed of Love” and “Embers.” It’s pretty easy to tell that Owl City is going to be making a splash with more than just “Good Time.”
Image Courtesy of Universal/Republic.