Adam Young recently released his third CD, "The Midsummer Station", with a whirlwind tour of media appearances, including "America’s Got Talent" and the Today show. Taking on the band name "Owl City", this one-man band has already hit it big a couple of times now. You may have heard this on the radio.
And, if you watched the movie "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole" (yes, a movie about a city of owls), you might have heard this during the end credits.
Owl City’s previous CDs have had, as their hallmark, whimsical, imaginative lyrics, much like these hits. It’s not the sum-total of his work, but it’s certainly been what he’s best known for. Also, as a Christian, while his lyrics on released material are not overtly religious, he has used words that, understanding his religion, add further meaning to them. For example, the chorus from his song "Galaxies" (another imaginative song):
Dear God, I was terribly lost,
When the galaxies crossed,
And the Sun went dark.
Dear God, You’re the only North Star,
I would follow this far.
Where, elsewhere, the "Dear God" would be simply an interjection for emphasis, here it’s a prayer.
(I say the lyrics are not overtly religious "on release material", because he posted his rendition of "In Christ Alone" on his blog. I can’t find it there anywhere, but a YouTube video is here.)
With this as the backdrop, "The Midsummer Station" marks a few changes in the music of Owl City. First, there’s less of the one-man band aspect. His Wikipedia entry lists the current members as just "Adam Young – lead vocals, programming, keyboards, piano, synthesizers, guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion, vibraphone". But on Midsummer, there is collaboration on vocal, writing and producing credits. On the vocal front, the first hit off the CD, "Good Times", pairs Young with Carly Rae "Call Me Maybe" Jepsen. Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus also appears for the track "Dementia".
Secondly, this CD moves Owl City towards more in the way of a rock sound and slightly away from the previous very-electronic sounding, synth-pop music. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. My kids introduced me to Owl City, and I frankly loves the sound he put together on the previous CDs. So not moving too far from his roots is OK, as is his willingness to experiment with the sound and let go a little of the creative control.
Thirdly, the lyrics are less whimsical and more rooted in a concrete subject matter, even if the treatment is teenage-ish. Rather that musing about fireflies, Midsummer has two break-up songs, for example, in addition to the upbeat and uplifting songs. Adam said that the song "Dementia" was written when he was having some regrets. But not to leave it completely behind, "Metropolis" is a song that Superman might sing when he gets homesick.
There is one aspect of Owl City’s music that has not changed with this release; enunciation. Yeah, not something that you typically think of when listening to music. But hey, Mom and Dad (and I count myself as one of you), if you listen to this CD, you will not need a page of lyrics to know what’s being said. And yet, it doesn’t sound enunciated, not like a high school English teacher trying to get you to pronounce your words properly. It’s very natural and, with a combination of the sound mix and voicing, you always know the words. (Listen to one of the videos again to see what I mean.) I appreciate this, and even more so since he doesn’t try to drown out any Christian expression in the lyrics.
The song lyrics themselves might have felt at home in my high school years of the late 70s. And that may be why I like this CD; it’s a throwback to those fun days, where I can imaging blasting "Good Time" out the open windows cruising down the main drag with some buddies. It has cuts that would cause some teen being interviewed by Dick Clark on "American Bandstand" to say, "It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it; I give it a 90."
Some may find certain tracks a bit "cheesy", and I can understand that. But overall, I like this CD and would definitely recommend it to, well, friends of my kids, as well as old guys like me who did like the pop music scene in the late 70s/early 80s. It’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it. I give it a 95.