Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tuning in to the midsummer station...

Owl City (AKA Adam Young) has long been a purveyor of candy-coated electropop - one could almost call it cavity-inducing.  He reaches out a bit on the 3rd major-label album and the resulting production is much less of a 1-man show than his first 2 major label efforts were.  He traffics in the same candy-coated whimsy, sure, but some outside efforts help to temper the sugar-happy onslaught this time around.

"Dreams and Disasters" opens the album with a slightly rougher sound than either of the 2 before it, all low-octave thumps and pulses of sound, marching along, extolling listeners to "Follow the light through the dreams and disasters" - nicely balancing the sugar-coated excess with an uplifting message that doesn't get too treacly.  Even with head-scratching lyrics ("The sound of the sun rising, anyone?") it gets things off to a nice start - and while still electropop by definition, the outside influence clearly helps - it sounds less like yet another dip into the same pool of synth sounds - something that has plagued his discs in the past.

"Shooting Star" is classic Owl City bleep & boop dropped atop tumbling pianos - no surprise, considering he's worked with Mark Thiessen before, and does so again on this track.  "Gold" thumps along with a beat that calls to mind early U2 - and is sweet enough, but almost wrecked by the syllable elongation "Go-o-o-o-o-o-o-old" - something Young uses a bit too often on this disc.  Over-zealous enunciation gripes aside, it's a decent enough slice of Owl City meets U2 electropop.  "Dementia" provides a duet with a somewhat-underused Mark Hoppus - and works as a welcome counterpoint to the usual treacly sentiments Young pours into every song.

And then we come to a track that has a pun so corny you can't help but love - or hate it?  Really, it depends on who you ask.  "You've got the right to remain right here with me / I'm on your tail in a hot pursuit / love is a high speed chase racing down the street" - and it just keeps going from there.  A hand-clap-heavy backbeat and spare clinking pianos frame this track that can come across any number of ways - sweet and sentimental? Stalker-ish?  Again, depends on who you ask - but it's a catchy number however you happen to think of it when you hear it.

"Good Time" is an of-the-moment pairing with pop ingenue Carly Rae Jepsen - pleasant filler, but having 2 frothy personalities on one song makes it a bit much at times.  "Embers" is a mid-tempo ballad which shows he has picked up a few new tricks since his debut "Ocean Eyes."  The whimsy is still here, but the sugar-coated delirium has been dialed back a great deal.  This gives the simple, yet thoughtful sentiments room to breathe - room that was sorely lacking from previous efforts from Owl City.  And right after comes what may be the crown jewel - "Silhouette" is a piano ballad with only the scarcest hints of effects creeping through here and there.  It shows just how good he can sound when the vocoded laptop-techno beats are stripped away and it's just him and a piano.  Really, you can almost see the lighters swaying in the air at the concert listening to this one.

Other critics have savaged this disc for throwing away the light-hearted whimsy of his major-label debut to chase the beat.  Yes, the thump of the drums shows more of the "current-day flavor" and feels less like the 1-man-show production that dominated Ocean Eyes.  This doesn't make it a bad thing, though - it's just a slight shift - and the maturity in the lyrics themselves is a welcome development.  Really, it would be terrible if he just kept making the same album over and over again - so "The Midsummer Station" is a hat trick - more of the same, but more of the same with a welcome evolution at work.

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