Artist: Owl City
Title: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Label: Universal Republic Records
Release Date: June 14, 2011
- The Real World
- Deer in the Headlights
- Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust
- Honey and the Bee
- January 28, 1986
- Hospital Flowers
- Alligator Sky (Feat. Shawn Chrystopher)
- The Yacht Club
- Plant Life
Sometimes artists remind me of people. Yes, they are made up of people (or in this case, a person), but the entity itself seems to take on the quirks of a person and grow with distinct phases as a person would. In Adam Young’s, more popularly known as Owl City, earlier works like Ocean Eyes, Maybe I’m Dreaming, and Of June, there was a very distinct feel to them that either drew the listener in or repulsed them. Simply put, it was music that expressed a child-like wonder that either sounded immature to some or creative and unique to others. If that was what could be looked at as the “childhood” of Owl City, then All Things Bright and Beautiful is the teenage phase. Not teenage in appeal, this is no flash-in-the-pan Disney Channel “artist,” but rather the equivalent of the teenage stage of growth of Adam Young as an artist.
What I mean is this: as said before, Owl City’s previous works expressed a certain child-like wonder, and that sound is also still present to one degree or another in All Things Bright and Beautiful. However, there are new elements such as more emotional (even border-lining on angst-y at times) vocals, more mature lyrics (yes, the imagery-laced lyrics are still here too), different song structures, and even a song that adds hip-hop verses. So, like meeting your teenage cousin after having not seen him since he was 7, the record feels like something new and more of the same at the same time. Perhaps that’s a good thing because current fans will have the familiar sound that originally drew them to the music, but also get to be exposed to something new. Newcomers will find more of an appeal as well since the “immature” conclusion will be less likely here (though it will probably still be thrown around). Before I continue my review, full disclosure: I would be included in the “current fan” category.
The album opener, “The Real World” begins with the sparkling synthesizers, electronic drumming, orchestra, and pop-vocals that have become classically associated with Owl City. The lyrics are typical of Adam Young’s imagery that I take to be talking about rather being in dreams where anything can happen as the lyric expresses: “reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” As a side note, there’s something to be said for the way Adam Young writes lyrics. Critique the images he draws on if you want to, but the word choices and lyric structures are more reminiscent of poetry rather than some cheesy pop artist who’s trying to write a hit song. Not to say this is classic literature on the level of Robert Frost to be sure, but it’s worth noting.
“Deer in the Headlights” will be recognizable to most as the song from the music video where Adam Young got to drive the Delorean from “Back to the Future.” It’s in this song where you first get to hear Adam Young use a little bit of the “angst” in his vocals (note: angst referring to the sound, not the lyrics). Musically, there’s more electric guitar here than you’re used to hearing in an Owl City song, though, of course, the synthesizers are always present. The lyrics are a bit different as well, speaking directly about a girl using lyrics like “tell me again was it love at first sight, when I walked by and you caught my eye” and “it’s suffocating to say, but the female mystique takes my breath away. So give me a smile or give me a sneer because I’m trying to guess here.” These lyrics add to the reason that I call this the “teenage” stage of Owl City.
The sweeping synthesizers and yelled chorus-line of “Angels” take the next spot and the lyrics are striking because they are very image provoking but lacking the “sugary” words that seem to annoy critics. At this point, I began to forget the similarity that the first track had to Ocean Eyes. This is followed by the orchestra-heavy, dance-beat sound of “Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust” which returns to Young’s dream-image laced lyrics, it’s a song that’s still reminiscent of Owl City’s classic sound while managing to feel somewhat fresh.
“Honey and the Bee” is next with the finger-picking guitar opening that feels almost folk-like until the electronic beat comes in. The song is a duet with Breanne Duren whom you may recognize as the girl who sang with him in “Saltwater Room” on Ocean Eyes. The song manages to use the dream-esque lyrics while still sounding like a love song and the ballad of the record.
The next song up is “Kamikaze” and this is a sound from Adam Young that is unique to this record because Young uses yelled lyrics behind smooth pop vocals to create a sound that is truly interesting. This is followed by “January 28, 1986” which is simply an excerpt from a speech given about the space shuttle Challenger that is used as a lead in to the single from the record.
“Galaxies” is up next and this is the song that first hit the radio and was well-known before the record was even released. The dance beat, orchestra, and synthesizers begin to swirl as Adam Young sings directly about his dependence on God who is “the saving grace of the galaxies.” This is one point that impresses me about Adam Young as he is very intent on keeping himself rooted in God and consistently gives Him credit for all of his success. In his cd cases, there are usually only one or two “thank you” lines and in this one he always makes sure to write “All praise and glory to Jesus Christ, to whom I owe everything.” Musically, you again hear the more emotion filled, at times yelled, vocals that are used frequently in this record.
“Hospital Flowers” opens next with a slow piano intro and melodic pop vocals. The lyrics are a story about someone regaining happiness in life after almost losing it. This slow song is very dependent on the piano which provides a good change of pace in the middle of the record. This is followed by “Alligator Sky” which will be a hit or miss for listeners. Along with the glittering synthesizers and orchestra, a hip-hop beat jumps in as Shawn Chrystopher raps the verses while Adam Young sings the chorus and bridge. It’s a song that should be listened through at least once because it is very different from Young’s usual sound just because of the rapping (while the music itself is still familiar).
“The Yacht Club” is up next with Lights providing background vocals. The song has a light electro-pop feel to it in the verses but flips to a techno sound in the chorus. This is followed by a song called “Plant Life” which is a song the was written by both Adam Young and Relient K’s Matt Thiessen and feels like it. It sounds just like what you would expect, a cross between Relient K and Owl City.
Overall: Owl City’s Adam Young is developing in a positive direction as an artist. All Things Bright and Beautiful is a record that feels both new and familiar at the same time, adding elements that make the future of Owl City look bright. While having not yet composed that record that could be termed a classic (the reason it is scored an 8), Young has written a very well thought out record with All Things Bright and Beautiful that uses new approaches to song structures and vocals that makes the road ahead look very promising. This is a strong release that will not disappoint current fans; and people who were on the fence or didn’t like Young’s previous work should definitely come and give it a chance if just to see the direction its heading. I foresee this record being in my CD player on a regular rotation for a while to come. All things considered, I fully expect Young to write that “classic” record in the near future. This is an artist to keep your eye on.