Mosaic / Music / Reviews / November 12, 2009

Owl City creates diabetic coma

By now, many of you have probably heard of Owl City, the pet project of musician Adam Young. The band is on the lips of high school and college students across the country and Young’s popularity continues to rise, spurred on by the rocketing success of “Fireflies,” the first single from their latest album, which has since become the number one song on iTunes and the Billboard charts.

But Owl City’s sophomore album “Ocean Eyes” has enjoyed moderate commercial success and a mixed critical reception.

Part of Owl City’s success (much to Young’s chagrin) seems to lie on the comparisons drawn between the group and the popular Ben Gibbard/Jimmy Tamborello project The Postal Service. Listening through “Ocean Eyes,” the similarities are too great to be ignored.

Young’s voice is not a perfect match for Gibbard’s, but buried under the layers of auto-tuning that marks Young’s vocal performance is a darn close substitute. Combined with similar electronic stylings, one is hard pressed to tell the difference between the two at some points, though Owl City can be differentiated by the fact that their songs sound like they could have been written by Ben Gibbard, if he were thirteen years old and perpetually lovesick.

“The Bird and the Worm,” which comes towards the album’s open, is a perfect example of the juvenile perspective which pervades the album, with lyrics like “the glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling will shine for us […] ‘cause we tend to make each other blush.” It recalls almost too perfectly the feeling of young love, both in the sense that it is new and that those involved are practically children.

If Young were any older than his twenty-three years, songs like these would border on being creepy, but as it stands, they are simply sugary pop.

The single “Fireflies” and a reworked version of his previous hit “Hello Seattle” are among the better tracks on the album, though they come in only a notch or two above the rest of the material. “Fireflies” is marked by the same childish lyricism of songs like “The Bird and the Worm” and “Vanilla Twilight,” but with some skillful musical arrangement and a slower, almost sorrowful chorus, it is raised above the dreck and transformed into a respectable pop tune. Similarly, “Hello Seattle” is a finger-snapping, toe-tapping tune that manages to avoid the lyrical pitfalls of the rest of the album, and is instead filled with disconnected and surreal imagery, to which it ultimately owes its success.

All things considered, “Ocean Eyes” is a pretty good pop album. The only real complaint lies in the sickeningly sweet nature of the songs, which, if one is exposed to them long enough, are sugary enough to cause diabetes.

Because of this, Owl City is best in small doses, and it is certainly not recommended if one is looking to take something meaningful away from the listening experience – this album is light, easily digestible synthpop at its finest, if most irritating, point.

Dan Dyrda

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