Owl City, the brainchild of Adam Young, was formed in 2007 in Owatonna, Minnesota. Experimenting with electronica, synthesizer-pop, multiple instruments and a touch of indie, this project quickly gained popularity on MySpace. Young sings, writes, and uses his MacBook to compose the beats behind all of his songs as well as plays keyboard, piano, guitar, bass, drums, accordion and vibraphone. Pretty talented, right? Young’s sophomore release on Universal Republic, All Things Bright and Beautiful, emits a sort of ambient feeling with each song and focuses on a central theme of escapism to outer space. Not only is the album classic ‘indietronica’ Owl City, Young adds a little diversity including a rapper and female soloists.
Opening the album up, “The Real World” is a shimmery start and is a hit with lyrics. “Reality is a lovely place / But I wouldn’t want to live there,” starts to signify Young’s theme of escapism to somewhere not of this Earth. The song is relatively catchy and is signature Owl City synth poetic. Next up is “Deer In The Headlights,” which is a little more catchy and poppy than the rest of the album. The background music sounds like something you’ll find on a We The Kings or HelloGoodbye album. “Angels” shows a more gentle side of Young. He sings along to a jingling melody of lines like “Wake me if you’re out there / I believe there are beautiful things seen by the astronauts / The indications reveal / That few of us realize life is quite surreal,” bringing us again back to the theme of outer space and a comment about humanity.
“Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust” is another song on the poppy end of the spectrum, but not a huge point on the album to mention. However, the fifth song on the album, “Honey and the Bee” is one to rave about. Featuring a duet with fellow Minnesota soloist Breanne Düren, there are more acoustics and less electronica, and the two voices mesh beautifully. It is as if they are singing their love story through lyrics, “Oh, I’ll always love you / I’ll always love you too.” Smack in the middle, “Kamikaze” is refreshing. Young isn’t just singing along to a ballad, but also screaming lines haphazardly in the background (“Oh comet come down!”) “January 28, 1986” is a special addition to the album. A mere thirty seven seconds in, it features a clip of Reagan’s speech commemorating the lives lost during the Challenger space shuttle tragedy played over Young’s vocals and synth. Born in 1986, Young wrote the song to demonstrate being brought into this world in such a devastating year.
“Galaxies” is by far the best song on the album. Not only is it classic old school Owl City, catchy, airy and poppy, it is a perfect example of what Owl City represents. It consists of a lot of electronic synth, Young’s smooth vocals, catchy lyrics and ambient beats – yet another reference to escapism to outer space. Ninth on the track list, “Hospital Flowers” is a sort of sad melancholy tune about a man killed in a car crash. The first single released from the album, “Alligator Sky,” is mention-worthy. It features rapper Shawn Chrystopher, who clearly takes control of the song, and turns it into more of a hip-hop song. The radio-friendly tune is a deviation from Owl City’s usual sound but Young’s vocals in the hook and the touch of synth allows the song to preserve some of the signature that is Owl City, as well as another allusion to outer space.
“The Yacht Club” features female artist Lights and is a little more techno then the rest of the album. The song features an airy harmony between the two artists’ voices. While the lyrics are nothing unique, the two vocalists sound exquisite together. Rounding out the album is the song “Plant Life,” written by Young in collaboration with Relient K’s Matt Thiessen, which includes great piano and accordion and is reminiscent in sound to Relient K’s “Deathbed.” It is a lovely way to end the album, to say the least. Singing, “Today I’m bustin’ out of this old haunted house / Because I’m sick of waiting for all the spider webs to grow all around me / ‘cause I don’t feel dead anymore / and I’m not afraid anymore,” Young ties together all the underlying themes of his third album: escapism, supernatural, outer space, fearlessness, and maturity.
As a whole, All Things Bright and Beautiful, is fairly enjoyable, but lacks the extra punch to make it extraordinary. Sure, Young stayed true to his synthesizer, airy melodies and also tried to give a little variety with Shawn Chrystopher and Lights, but the album sounds like it could be part two to Ocean Eyes. For Young’s genre of indie/electronica/synth/pop, it is on point. The diversification on the album shows Young’s maturity and fearlessness to try anything once in the industry. However, he still manages to show us his creativity and ability to have fun in creating the music he wants to, which might foreshadow how much we have to look forward to from him in the future.
Release Date: June 14, 2011
Record Label: Universal Republic
For Fans Of: The Postal Service, HelloGoodbye, Metro Station, We The Kings
Recommended Tracks: “The Real World” // “Angels” // “Galaxies” // “Plant Life” //
Purchase: iTunes / Amazon