Album Review: Owl City ‘The Midsummer Station’
You almost can’t get less cool than Owl City. Well, at least in the eyes of some of us, because after that ‘Fireflies’ song I’m going to have a hard time taking Adam Young completely seriously. The hope may be that there really are enough hipsters in the third grade to sustain him for the rest of his career, and The Midsummer Station seems to be a record which understands that very well.
It starts out with about as typical a pop song as one could imagine, ‘Dreams and Disasters’, a tune about living life to the fullest, taking risks and chasing one’s dreams. ‘Shooting Star’ sticks with the same message, offering encouragement and motivation to get out and make the most of any given night. Both songs are very danceable, though not particularly interesting. Maybe I’m a cynic.
Adam Young has gone back and forth a bit in terms of style over his last couple of albums, though he’s really never strayed very far from the formula being showcased here. Whether a song has slightly more guitar, slightly more piano, or slightly more synthesizer, it’s hard to call these differences a true deviation from the norm, and these songs– like most of his past work– all bleed together into one deliriously positive bucketful of pop tropes.
‘Dementia’ features Mark Hoppus from Blink 182, in an appearance which I can only imagine came about because Adam Young looks and sounds eerily similar to Mark’s bandmate, Tom DeLonge. It’s like if Blink 182 made a children’s album. Somebody must have suggested it would be kind of funny, but regardless, they seem to take the track seriously enough, continuing with Owl City’s words of encouragement for the youth.
This is music that is honestly not for my age group, but I don’t want to get stuck too much on that perspective, because I can see how it would appeal greatly to a different audience. In that light, it really is a notch above what kids usually have to choose from. A small notch, but a notch no less, and if nothing else it might serve as a gateway drug to slightly more advanced flavors of pop.
There is even a Carly Rae Jepsen collaboration on ‘Good Time’, but it doesn’t have a fraction of the catchy, singable charm of ‘Call Me Maybe’, nor Owl City’s own radio nuke, ‘Fireflies’, which might be a problem for this album. It’s a pretty unremarkable record, and without a couple of big singles it won’t serve as much more than a bit of padding for Young’s catalog.
‘Embers’ stands out as at least having its own mood apart from the rest of the record, but it’s still a very formulaic and predictable song. It’s not uncommon to be able to guess the direction of the music in a song like this, but with Owl City I often find myself guessing lyrics in advance, and when both of these things are true an argument could be made that there is just about no point in playing the album at all.
‘Silhouette’ is pretty enough, and it’s a bit of a sad song, about feeling alone and as if your best days are behind you. The latter point might not be extremely easy for Owl City’s probable audience to relate to, but of all the tracks on the record this one is far and away the most interesting, for me, because it strikes me as being very genuine.
The album ends with ‘Bombshell Blonde’, which seems to have no connection to the rest of the record at all. Maybe they just couldn’t find a better place to slot it in. A smattering of dubstep and some chiptune-style samples are added for good measure, but the result is that the song ends up feeling like it was added purely to fill out the album and make up for some of its weaknesses. If you’re going to tack on a song, though, it’s probably best to be a little more subtle about it and place it anywhere but last.
In the end this is a record you probably knew your stance on in advance, which is to say that it is exactly what the next Owl City album was always going to sound like, to the point that you or I might have been able to write it ourselves. For a lot of people it is a disgustingly cute and slightly phony experience they would rather not endure, while for a great many others this is exactly the kind of thing they need when they wake up in the morning. It’s not exclusively for kids, but if you’re over the age of 17 it’s really hard not to be cynical about something like this. If you love it you are definitely a better person than I.
Release Date: August 21, 2012
Image Courtesy of Universal Republic