Artist: Owl City
Album: The Midsummer Station
Label: Universal Republic
Alas, I must disagree with the morals espoused on one of this album’s tracks – it is patently not always a “good time,” and you do need to try, and try much harder than this. Disappointingly for an artist who so impressed with last year’s All Things Bright and Beautiful, Adam Young’s Owl City seems to have gotten stuck in the muck with The Midsummer Station. It’s a frustratingly flavourless and uninspired listen, mired in its attempts to straddle synth, pop, something dance-like, and often failing quite horribly despite his past successes in these areas. It is an album that will respond well to repeated listens, though this is more because the initial shock at how woeful it can sound will wear off as opposed to it actually unveiling any charms.
It seems a bit harsh to criticise something that’s led by such a boyish, sweetened voice but the fact remains that the musical mastery here is lacking. More often than not, it seems to be missing direction and vision, sounding – be this intentional or not – like a wayward, washed out mix of randomly generated sound effects. Where the aforementioned All Things Bright and Beautiful married a wholesome, endearing sensibility to artistic and refined music, this just sounds like a big old mess. The tenderness and idealistic vibes are there in droves, but they’re drowned out by noisy backing samples and misfiring instruments. “Dreams and Disasters” is feelgood but misguided. Young drowns his alluringly poppy sentiments in glitzy, thumping dance samples, making it sound horribly crass and mainstream and destroying any unique appeal the song may have had. “Gold” is uber-trendy and romanticised, and really quite hideous. The music is overflowing and creates a sense of ebullience, but one can’t help feeling that this is being used to mask how dull and insipid the song is at heart. The aforementioned “Good Time,” which features lady of the moment Carly Rae Jepsen on guest vocals, is colourful only in that Jepsen’s presence distinguishes it from the rest. Otherwise, it seems half-hearted and mediocre, with manufactured beats and token rhythms and lines you’ve heard before. “Metropolis” is cheerful and wholesome, using lots of exuberant synths to evoke Young’s gushing feelings. Yet, it suffers from the same deficits as the others. The mixture of synth and something more dance-like is too coarse and it becomes grating, as Young’s inherently dulcet tones lack the gravitas to anchor it.
It follows then that when Young scales back the add-ons and roots tracks in something more heartfelt and natural, they fare much better. The Midsummer Station does have some good moments, though it could be said they don’t stand out so much for their quality as for the glaring inadequacies elsewhere. Whenever a piano gets involved, the album takes on a predictably fresher and warmer appeal which works to its favour. “Shooting Star” is very mainstream but it is vibrant, the keys only partially undone by the buzzing synth effects. “Embers” has rock infusions, and thus more life. The verses are tender and there’s less emphasis on the decorative elements. “Silhouette” is really good, one of the only genuine gems here. Stripped of the showy tendencies, it is naturalistic, thoughtful, open, and intimate and illustrates what effectiveness this album could have were it not mired in needless embellishments.
The Midsummer Station is undoubtedly placid and serene at heart, but its attempts to glamorise itself are misguided and destructive. The sound is, ultimately, far too generic and even irritating to convince. The mainstream and familiar aren’t necessarily bad things at times, but the use of such recycled effects and samples here completely tarnish the more discreet charms of the music. It sounds too commonplace and deliberate to stand out. In fairness, I might be (and usually am) in the minority on this point, but for me The Midsummer Station is just a bit of a mess.
Review written by Grace Duffy