Album Review: “The Midsummer Station” by Owl City

kelly gonsalves debuts for pop-break with a look at the record from owl city…

Ever since the wave of worldwide success brought about by his 2010 radio hit, “Fireflies,” finally died down, Owl City had all but faded into obscurity in the mainstream music scene. The single’s few months of radio play earned Adam Young, the band’s solo singer and instrumentalist, thousands of lifelong fans and a permanent spot in the heart of the electronica scene, but it seemed as though Owl City had fallen off the world’s radar for good. However, with his recent collaboration with pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen, Owl City has been gaining an unprecedented resurgence in popularity – and just in time, it seems. Since the last time we saw him, Adam Young has tapped into a whole new genre of music, one that will both surprise old fans and certainly recruit new ones.

Admittedly, the last Owl City record to which I listened religiously was their first album, Maybe I’m Dreaming, back in middle school, when the idea of extremely visual, poetry-like lyrics over a fun, techno beat seemed like a radical and exciting concept. Owl City’s next two albums rode that electro-synth craze for a good three years and met great recognition and acceptance. However, even hardcore fans of this one-man electronica act have to admit that, after three full-length albums and several EP’s of the classic “Owl City sound,” a new musical direction was long overdue. Owl City’s brand new record, The Midsummer Station, with its bold exploration of a more established pop sound, hits that nail on the dot.

The album opens with the very summery “Dreams and Disasters,” which features a synth-meets-jungle beat perfect for blasting down the highway with the windows down. Although the song itself is nothing special, it serves as the perfect introduction to what can only be called an experimental album. Nothing about Adam’s voice has changed – it still has that light, airy feel that makes it incredibly pleasant on the ears. The music itself, however, has definitely gone through some major revamp since the last album. Adam’s traditional near-nonsensical lyrics have been replaced with simpler lines that seem to embody the current generation’s obsession with being young and living forever. Tracks like “Shooting Star” and “Gold” even feature main chorus lines of “whoa, oh’s” and syllable repetition, clear indicators of Owl City’s purposeful transition into more radio-friendly music.

Although the change is certainly exciting, admittedly none of the first few songs really hold a candle to Owl City’s old, infectiously catchy tunes. By the fourth track, however, the record definitely picks up. “Dementia,” a collaborative effort between Adam and Blink-182’s bassist and vocalist, Mark Hoppus, offers a more gritty, grounded sound with its distinctly rock instrumentals interspersed between the synths. And of course, Mark’s earthy vocal contributions add welcomed texture to the piece just by off-setting Adam’s more smooth and mellow natural voice.

As the songs go by, one cannot help but notice the array of different styles being tested from song to song. “I’m Coming After You,” with its darker, club-like beat and theme of physical courtship, hardly sounds like an Owl City song at all, and “Embers” comes off as an improved version of earlier track “Shooting Star” (which itself is highly reminiscent of Katy Perry’s “Firework”) by once again bringing in the charm of real instruments, both rock and string. Finally, following the gratuitous, slow heart-throb of a ballad, “Silhouette,” about the very relatable feeling of loneliness, as well as the altogether forgettable “Metropolis,” the album comes to a close with “Take It All Away.” This closer-to-home piece both pulls in some ’90’s pop influences while simultaneously hearkening back to the old Owl City days. It certainly isn’t the strongest closer in music history, but it is definitely one of the stronger numbers on this record.

A review of The Midsummer Station would not be complete, of course, without a thorough evaluation of its chart-topping single, “Good Time.” Released this past June, a good two months prior to the release of the album itself, “Good Time” has received praise as a true “summer anthem,” hitting number 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in just a few weeks. For many, this was the song that debuted the band’s new musical direction – and the reception by long-time fans was rocky indeed.

In comparison to most other songs of both Owl City and Carly alike, “Good Time” is lyrically inferior, lacking the emotive and creative elements that make Owl City lyrics lovable and fascinating. The apparent overarching theme of living carelessly and for nothing but reckless, day-to-day pleasure is also disheartening, considering the level of depth and character present in the artists’ other works. Adam, however, defended “Good Time” in a recent interview with Fuse: “Right now, there’s something really compelling about trying to capture magic within a very simple, concise, immediate, grounded-in-reality pop song.”

Although it seems supplemental knowledge of Adam’s personal character is necessary to resist filing this song under the trashy “Y.O.L.O.” sensation, there is no denying the obvious fact that Adam and Carly’s voices sound ultimately splendid together. Both are sweetly smooth and light, a real match made in heaven. Plus, it is physically impossible to refrain from bursting out into singing and dancing when this song comes on the radio. As a former critic of it myself, I must admit that my heart now swells with pride for two of my favorite artists whenever this song gets some radio play.

The Midsummer Station certainly has a few hiccups and unsuccessful attempts within its 46 minutes of song, but very few bands get a genre switch down perfectly on the first try. All things considered, Adam does an impressive job mixing conventional pop with Owl City’s tried-and-true Indietronic vibe. “It’s hard to explain,” Adam says in a post on his official Tumblr, “but exactly where and how these two things have the ability to coexist together without tipping the scale is what’s beyond inspiring to me.” And based on his successes with the mixture in this record, I think we should be prepared for even bolder steps in this direction in Owl City’s future work. Pop music, Adam explains, is “merely the sparkle that’s captured my attention at the moment.”

All in all, The Midsummer Station feels like a transition album, a trial to see what works and what does not. And in case you were wondering, Adam – yes, it’s working.