REVIEW: Owl City – The Midsummer Station


Artist: Owl City
Album: The Midsummer Station
Genre: Synth-pop
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.

SCORE: 5/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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  • Grace, you’re dead wrong, of course. The soundscape which has created within this amazing work of art clearly surpasses any of the moot points you’ve made in this so-called article. It’s sloppy journalism, dead-on negative, and it sounds like someone asked for you to write a negative review on it. Despite your ramblings on, it will go to the Top 5. Because people DO enjoy GOOD music.

  • Grace

    It’s hardly sloppy journalism to think the album is just bad. Which it is. If people enjoyed good music, the Rihannas of this world would not be famous, m’dear. But happy listening! And thanks for reading.

  • Yes, but it IS sloppy journalism to be completely ignorant of just what has been recorded and mastered. You obviously DON’T know much about recorded music. Whereas, I do. I’m a vet in the industry. Put that in your pipe and smoke (because, Lord knows, you might have been smoking SOMETHING to write what you did. Just saying…

  • Any industry vet would be repulsed by anyone asking any journalist to put anything into a pipe and smoke it. How immature.

    Looking at your Disqus history, I can see that you listen primarily to mainstream pop music; Maroon 5, Katy Perry, and Carly Rae Jepsen being examples of artists you praise.

    Also, claiming veteran status in the music industry can only be supported by a resume or some sort of professional page which I can’t seem to locate for you. Any veteran in any area of expertise would make certain their credentials are easy to locate. All i have on you is a Klout score of 14 and a Soundcloud page that shows nothing of worth.

    Disagree with a review if you’d like, but don’t question a person’s integrity by creating the illusion of your own.

  • Grace

    See Jacob’s comment, and further, allow me to provide a stick of dynamite for the chip on your shoulder. This comment has all the acerbic insult power of a five-year-old’s. The only thing missing is a raspberry and “SO THERE.” I think your caps lock button is broken.

  • You know NOTHING.

  • LOL!!! You are just a sore LOSER. I’m DONE.

  • That is something of worth, on SoundCloud, because I write with my chidren, by the way. Idiot.

  • BTW? I don’t create illusions of my own…I live in reality constantly. I am a grammy winning songwriter in my own right, and I’ve been in the studio more times than you or Grace could probably count. You don’t need to know any more than that. Youngster.

  • Jeremy

    Completely agree with this review- ATBAB was a phenomenal album and I find it damn near offensive that a record label or even Adam himself would think it needs to be diluted with generic pop to sound better. It’s funny that his record label has all but acknowledged ATBAB to be a failure but only released two music videos for it. TMS was a completely unnecessary attempt to gain more widespread attention- while some songs were catchy (Bombshell Blonde) overall I was completely underwhelmed. I hate how lack of commercial success is equated with bad music instead of blatent underpromotion.

  • Thomas

    100% agree

  • You have not won a Grammy. That’s a fact. I also work in a recording studio everyday for 9 months out of the year, so there’s that.

    Please, leave my reviewer alone and return to your Owl City fan Twitter.

  • Grace

    “Lol” is so five minutes ago, darling. Toodlepip! Don’t let your delusions of grandeur burden you on your journey through life <3

  • May God Bless you, Grace. I know He blesses me, every day…

  • See, what you see as “diluted”, I hear as “enriched”…BIG difference…

  • Grace

    Which has so much relevance to this review. If God exists, (s)he has better taste in music than this.

  • Era

    I have to agree with this review completely. When I heard the new album had been released, I was immensely excited, expecting the likes of ATBAB with that warm, earnest feel with well thought out lyrics. While the sound of Dreams and Disasters did not at first disappoint me in the preview, as I continued to listen through the album, all I could think was: “This cannot be Owl City. This is a male Katy Perry.” While I don’t mind listening to generic pop every once in a while, I regard it as just that: Generic pop. When I look to Owl City, I’m expecting something more, that tickle of emotion and unbearable excitement that his older albums brought. I really don’t want to lower my expectations for him in hopes that the next album is better (but as the weak Owl City fan I am I still bought the album), but if this continues, consider my listening ear to his music discontinued.

  • As a long time fan of Adam (since the myspace days) I have to add my opinion to such a truly well written review. Although my opinion is vastly different, I recognize it is only that – an opinion.

    Adam has forever grasped my full attention, imagination, and devotion. From Port Blue to Sky Sailing and all the way to Owl City I have always found that every single song he creates has something so special, something so unique, that it takes me to a totally different world… Well, it takes me to Owl City. Owl City is the name he chose because it is meant to encompass whatever you want. It’s a place in your head you can escape to that has all your dreams coexisting into one beautiful paradise on earth. While I have found The Midsummer Station to be very different, I have also found it lacks nothing to continue taking me to Owl City.

    I often wonder if some people don’t confuse someones talent for a particular sound they create in a certain album. I may be wrong, but I have so often seen the same reaction to TMS toward other albums by just as/even more popular musicians. For an album or two they have a very special sound, then the next album they change it up and move to something new. I have noticed that every single time a band does this the reactions completely divide. Half the fans recognize change and fully enjoy it, while the other half is shocked and finds the new album to be lacking in the artist’s original talent and skill.

    All this to say that I understand if people who prefer Ocean Eyes or ATBAB to TMS, in fact I fully understand it. My favorite album may still be Maybe I’m Dreaming. However, I don’t think that this means TMS is any less of an album. It is very different, but I find it to be absolutely amazing as an entity of itself. I see it as the way pop is supposed to sound. No, it’s not like ATBAB’s signature smooth electro/synth sound. However, it still has the same touch that is Adam’s imagination. If I were to rate the album based on ATBAB, the album would seem alien and strange. But when I remember that people grow, so does everything about them – including what they create. So TMS is a new chapter in the life of Adam. One that I find totally unique and beautiful of itself.

    Maybe I only enjoy it as much as I do because I have always had such a crazy open mind to anything an artist creates. As a fan of Angels & Airwaves, Blink-182, Lights, Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith, Skrillex, – Heck, anything made by talented people creating anything but Rap and Country – and so many others, I may just be able to view music as something created album to album as compared to seing it artist to artist.

    In the end I give TMS an 11/12 rating. (I rate based on number of tracks in an album) The only reason it’s not a perfect score is because I did not find Gold as a song that meets Adam’s standard. Which only means I give the song itself a 3 out of 5 star rating.

    Dreams and Disasters opens with a strong beat, incredible sounds I can’t recognize, and a true message. Follow the light through everything. Don’t give up. A pumped up, uplifting song done correctly. Shooting Star and Speed of Love are like old Owl City on speed. Dementia is… amazing. It’s so different, but so perfect. The blend of Mark Hoppus and Adam goes so well together. Not to mention the song just gets me pumped up. I’m Coming After You has remnants of Kamikaze fused with his new sound. Good Time is simply a “Feel good summer song” done right, the Owl City way. To me the star tracks of the album are Embers, Silhouette and Metropolis. These three seem so dreamy, creative, and heart-wrenching. Then he finishes off his album on iTunes with an iTunes exclusive track Bombshell Blonde. In other words, he himself decided it didn’t really belong on the album, but liked it enough to give it to iTunes for a bonus special thingy. Owl City meets Skrillex? I have often wondered how well he could attempt a dubstep type track, and this just gives me an idea. I love it!

    So my review wont change your opinion, this I know. But maybe you can listen to the album with a different frame of mind and enjoy it more than you thought you could? Maybe as much as I do even? All the best.

  • Ann

    I have to agree for the most part with this review. I am a big fan of Adam, and still am despite this album which is a bit of a disappointment. I’m glad you appreciated ATBAB, because I don’t think there were very many good reviews for it because of it’s lack of mainstream appeal. ATBAB was Adam completely, everything was him. I think that this album was made with the pressure of the label on his mind (despite his protestations). While ATBAB was great artistically, it was a commercial flop, and this album was an attempt to get him back on the charts. His fans loved his second album, but it failed to produce another ‘fireflies’ of ‘vanilla twilight’ and crowd of teenyboppers gushing over it so it didn’t get on the charts. That’s my theory…

  • Ann

    Ooh, I must also point out of course, that aside from the difference musically, the lyrics are the part which niggle away at me. I always enjoyed the well-crafted lyrics Adam put up, so imaginative and abstract. I find that lacking in this album. As if he needs to dilute the intelligence of his vocab to meet the needs of the masses. Music is an art, so treat it like one! It needs to be analysed and interpreted by everyone, it needs abstractness and mystery. I don’t blame Adam too much though because he didn’t write too much of the album. Only tracks he wrote by himself were Dementia and Silhouette, which are some of the better ones. And I’m sorry @twitter-108706784:disqus is being a child…

  • This was a well formed and thought out comment. Thank you. I respect this a lot.

  • Grace

    This is how to respectfully disagree with a reviewer’s opinion. Kudos to you, and thanks for reading – glad that, as a longtime fan, you’re not disappointed by the album!

  • Grace

    Thanks for your comment, and for reading. I hear you (both in this and your other comment) – the album seems too eager to please, and has sacrificed a lot of merit in doing so. Worry not, you don’t need to apologise for that other commenter – I’m sure she’s busy writing a new Grammy-winning album as we speak.

  • I am sorry, but I have to say you have given a very bad example of what it means to follow Christ. Christ didn’t die so that we could argue and be disrespectful on the internet. By acting the way you have you have added to the negative meaning in the word “christian.” Please realize that Christ would never act this way and it only makes one sound foolish and childish. I urge you to either check your heart, or stop claiming Christ at the same time that you are giving Him a bad name. God Bless you, truly. But please stop adding to the negative view people have toward those of us who follow Christ.

  • Wow! You just summed up everything I thought too! I just didn’t know how to put it into words. Very nicely done!

  • JP

    Very well written review. I’m still a big admirer of what Adam does even though this release seemed to fall short of his artistry and talent. The Midsummer Station’s sound is still growing on me. The production on this album is very solid and appealing, so I disagree with you right there, but the lyrics are definitely mundane and dead without the charm and dreaminess they had before. It’s just funny that something so awesome like ATBAB came out and a year later this gets released. But Adam says he isn’t interested in repeating himself. So, that being said, that’s why we got something like this, but chances are that this won’t be repeated again.

  • At LEAST he stopped doing that awful rap-mix a few albums ago. I remember that song, Alligator Sky. Very very annoying to my ears. >< It didn't "sound" like Owl City or anything Adam-related in music genre. He did a few interesting gimmicks. He added some songs with rock in it. I dearly say it sounded really good. This albums doesn't "lack" anything but its not actually "risking" new ideas either. But it it IS Owl City. Pop genre and Electronic genre. What did you expect? Also there was one of his songs on his album that had a hint of dubstep (but that could have been just me). I think Adam wishes to provide what made him famous and good and keep it at a safe side. And that I do not mind. His songs will never bore me. sure it might "sound" the same but that's Owl City. No one can "copy" it well. i have seen copiers of Fireflies and other famous songs of Owl City, and its barely recognizable and failed to even copy it closely at all. Its what makes him fun. its pop and electric and he is using new ideas its just you have to see it deeper. ;)

  • Rachel

    I completely agree!

  • meow

    the midsummer station isnt Adams best album (mabye im dreaming is his best album, followed by ocean eyes) however its still owl city and thats all that matters
    remember that this is only ONE album that adam had help with. he said in an interview that he wanted to experiment with new people and new tracks. the next album (i bet) will be even better

  • meow

    the reason so many people like owl city is because is his lyrics (in his past 3 albums) were absoloutely magical. they were happy songs with deeper, darker meanings. some had a happy ending and some didnt. his lyrics are what i personally love about him