Sunday, September 23, 2012

Between synth and dance pop

album review

The Midsummer Station is a mostly sunny and upbeat record that tries so hard to blend into the commercial soundscape that it is easier to compare it to Katy Perry than The Postal Service

Artist: Owl City
Album: The Midsummer Station

Best known (and most detested) for deriving his sound from a much loved indie act, Adam Young has tasted both success and vitriol. When his divisive synthpop act Owl City made its major label debut in 2009 with Ocean Eyes, it didn't take listeners very long to notice just how similar his sound was to the dormant indie group The Postal Service, and how much it owed to the sonic canvas that had been crafted by Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello. Young's talent was evident, and his self-driven, almost one-man effort would have been commendable had it not been for the glaring lack of originality, plus it didn't help that the music he made was coupled with lyrics that, albeit imaginative and whimsical, were so high on the twee factor that they came off as more grating than charming. Before you knew it, Adam Young had been deemed a musical opportunist, and Owl City snubbed by naysayers as watered-down Postal Service on autotune sans sincerity.

But an artist doesn't need to be credible to be enjoyable, and a look at the charts will tell you that authenticity has very little to do with success. So while Young was busy getting “a thousand hugs from ten thousand lightning bugs”, his song 'Fireflies' was busy soaring up the charts and selling boatloads of copies. It might have been the worst nightmare for those who despise synthesized and overly autotuned music, but there was simply no escaping it.

Thus, for many, Owl City became a guilty pleasure, a sugary treat so overly saccharine that it risked causing diabetes. For others, Young's output wasn't so much sweet as it was cloying. Now, with his latest album, the musician has thrown himself headfirst into the mainstream, losing whatever little individuality he had managed to showcase in his previous records.

The Midsummer Station is a mostly sunny and upbeat record that tries so hard to blend into the commercial soundscape that it is easier to compare it to Katy Perry than The Postal Service. This compilation of fun electropop anthems is bright and optimistic for the most part, but also monochrome and repetitive. Songs like 'Shooting Star' and 'Dreams and Disasters' are oozing with optimism, and don't fall too far from Perry's 'Firework'. The album's highlight, however, isn't one of the generic pop flavored uplifters, but the somewhat edgier 'Dementia', which features Blink 182's Mark Hoppus, and sounds like something Hoppus' band mate Tom DeLonge would conjure up with Angels & Airwaves. Another notable song on the set is the piano led 'Silhouette' which turns down the cheer factor of the album to deliver an affecting ballad.

Many of the songs on the album, however, sound similar and unremarkable, which is why they ultimately fail to make an impact. Even the latest hit 'Good Time', his duet with 'Call Me Maybe' singer Carly Rae Jepsen, seems forced and bland. Something just doesn't work; it's all too generic and throwaway. As cheesy as it was, 'Fireflies' was at least memorable; a lot of the tracks on The Midsummer Station drown in the sea of generic dance pop and synthpop blandness. It isn't an appalling mess, and while it may get him some commercial success, it still doesn't seem like the best use of Adam Young's talent. Because the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who independently put together his initial work and famously experimented with music in his parents' basement is certainly capable of so much better than this. And we would be remiss to expect anything less from him.

- By Sameen Amer

 Instep, The News on Sunday - 23rd September, 2012

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