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When Owl City first swooped onto the pop scene with 2009’s “Fireflies,” he was frequently compared to The Postal Service with good reason: The synthesized pop sound and twee factor were similarly high.
On “The Midsummer Station,” Owl City (aka Adam Young) pairs with other producers and songwriters for the first time, and the result is a slight expansion of his sound that renders it just as recognizable, but marginally more diverse and slightly less precious.
Lest that sound like a swipe, part of Young’s appeal is his relentless positivity in many songs, often delivered with a keening earnestness that lends itself to teenage girls and misfit kids who want someone to tell them that it will all be okay. His ability to accomplish that alone is a reason to cheer for him. On
“Shooting Star,” he crosses Katy Perry’s “Firework” with any host of David Guetta songs for an uplifting anthem. “Embers” treads a similar path, but with its encouraging words —including “It gets better”— it could serve as a theme for the gay anti-bullying campaign of the same name.
When Young’s not riding unicorns into the sunset and looking up at the stars (one of his favorite themes), then he’s in the depths of despair. “Silhouette” veers from the standard formula in that it starts on a real piano instead of synths and poignantly addresses a pain brought on by Young’s own action that has left him feeling obliterated and exhausted, yet unable to move on. The deliberate quietness of the production adds to the feeling of self-imposed solitude. On “Take It All Away,” his only prayer is to keep it together until the person who has broken his heart leaves so she doesn’t see him crumble.
The album’s sweet spot comes with “Good Time,” his duet with It Girl, Carly Rae Jepsen. The pop charmer, which has already breached the Hot 100’s Top 15, draws heavily from Perry’s “California Gurls” chorus, but stands on its own as a proper summer anthem. Their voices suit the song well.
“Dementia” features Blink 182‘s Mark Hoppus,which automatically makes it the album’s hardest driving track. Lyrically, it’s a look at Young’s fast developing fame and what it did to his head following “Fireflies.” “This is love, this is war, this is pure insanity,” he sings.
The outside writers and producers seemingly show their influence the most in the music. While too many of the songs still sound too similar and too reliant on the same synth beats, “Gold” had a stomp that makes it stand out. “I’m Coming After You” ultimately doesn’t succeed because Young’s too sincere to pull off the cheekiness of the lyrical twists, but he sings in a bolder, stronger fashion that shows a different side of him worth exploring.
Young saves the best track for last: “Metropolis,” a tune about coming home to the only one who “gets me,” has a depth and different lyrical theme than most of his songs. Plus the strings add a pleasing dimension.
In many ways, “The Midsummer Station” feels like it was made by an artist in transition. If he’s willing to keep stepping out of his comfort zone, it will be worthwhile to see what Young does next.