Music Review: Owl City’s sound drifts between summery dream, disaster

Angelene Sun, Columnist

When I first listened to Owl City’s music, I got whisked off to a magical, whimsical world of sheer happiness and joy. His synthpop is very soothing and bright; it put me in a good mood. So, I recklessly bought a ticket as soon as I saw that Owl City — the musician formerly known as Adam Young — would be playing in Chicago on Oct. 6. When his new album “The Midsummer Station” came out in August, I instantly bought it to get myself pumped for the show. But with the concert approaching, I’m starting to have second thoughts.

I have to admit that all the melodies are really catchy — a little too catchy, in that they are almost painfully commercial. Though the 2009 runaway hit “Fireflies” was a rare accidental Top 40 hit that Owl City recorded in his basement, “The Midsummer Station” is the most transparent bid for mainstream airplay imaginable. Every melody sounds tailor-made for Top 40 radio but lacks personality.

Young has said he’s making an effort to step outside of the one-man-show approach of his earlier work. Apparently, he kept his promise and solicited help from a revolving door of producers, songwriters and guest vocalists for his fourth album. Young brings in production assistance from hit makers Stargate for the Euro-house rave touches of “Shooting Star” and co-writes several songs with Katy Perry’s writer/engineer Emily Wright. There’s a collaboration with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, and the famous (or infamous) Justin Bieberapproved “Call Me Maybe” singer, Carly Rae Jepsen. Although he has a lot of big names helping him, his sound doesn’t really change too much on Midsummer.”

Strip away the pulsing beats, and the overall hooks and melodies of the album are pretty bland. Owl City hits his stride with album opener “Dreams and Disasters.” While it’s not necessarily a bad track, it’s a little too bubbly, as are “Speed of Love” and “Embers.” The knockout single,“Good Time,” is a feel good song, but it features shallow lyrics that are completely void of any substance: “Freaked out, dropped my phone in the pool again. Checked out of my room, hit the ATM. Let’s hang out, if you’re down to get down tonight. It’s always a good time.”  What does that even mean? 

To his credit, Young did step out and try new things, such as adding a lot of electro house elements and dubstep into his music. What is missing from the mix is the imagery Young brought to his earlier singles, all of which seemed to include references to fireflies, emeralds, meteor showers and other fanciful things. If you are simply looking for a light-hearted, carefree experience, check out Young’s concert Saturday — I would love to sell my ticket. But to all you hardcore Owl City fans, just cross your fingers and hope Young can bring back that whimsical world again and craft some music worthy of “Fireflies.”