My first introduction to Owl City was hearing ‘Fireflies’, the fourth single off their third album Ocean Eyes, on the radio and, I’ll be honest, I didn’t have very nice things to say about it. I thought that Adam Young, the man singing about ‘planet Earth turning slowly’, needed to lock homself in his bedroom, find space among the teddybears, have a good cry, and then join the Real World.
How, exactly, I went from total dismissal to reviewing Owl City’sOcean Eyes is one of those smaller mysteries in life. You know – the little mysteries that keep us on our toes and make us smile (usually in retrospect). Ocean Eyes has made me smile.
The overall sound of the album is very much that of mellow electronica and bouncy synth-pop. I know that there are people Out There who have an irrational fear of electronica music, often associating it solely with eardrum-shattering thuds emanating from Pimped Rides driven by people with gold teeth. Let me assure you that, after listening to Ocean Eyes, your eardrums will remain intact. You may have the compulsion to make a daisy chain, but you’ll still be able to hear while doing so.
The music on this album comjures up images of water and wind, of great clouds billowing out over the ocean. For someone who spent fifteen years living at the coast (someone who now must contend with Jo’burg traffic on a daily basis), those iamges are welcomed! As I spent more time listening to Ocean Eyes, I was drawn in by Young’s lyrics. Yes, he does sing in a sometimes-soppy ‘sweet young man’ voice of things like flowers and seahorses, and it can all seem rather twee, but on a closer listening, I found my mood lightened. There is a naivete and an innocence I’ve not heard in pop music for a very long time. Leaving out guns, violence, sex, drugs, and rock and roll may cause you to wonder, “Well, what on earth is there left to sing about?” There’s always love, which gets its fair mention on Ocean Eyes, but I was impressed with how much of the lyrical content is firmly rooted in the natural world. Whether its the strangely beautiful ‘Saltwater Room’ of the ocean, or the ‘Alpine heights’ and ‘Northern lights’ of earth and sky, ‘Planet Earth’ is very much alive to Adam Young and Owl City.
Now, before you start thinking that Owl City is all about kumbayah around the camp fire, I need to tell you that Young does not only ‘sing about the tide and the ocean surf rolling in the evening breeze’, but he also slips in little gems like, ‘Every mushroom cloud has a silver lining’ and ‘For all my pals who live in the oceans and the seas, With fronds like these, Well, who needs anemones’. There are also candid moments on Ocean Eyes, such as the song ‘Tidal Wave’, in which Young confesses that he wishes he ‘broke mirrors instead of promises, ‘cos all I see is a shattered conscience staring back at me.’
A fun track on Ocean Eyes, and one that really stood out for me, is ‘Dental Care’. From the catchy melody to the sing-along lyrics, this song wouldn’t be out of place in a musical! Other tracks I feel I need to give special mention of are ‘Meteor Shower’, a short but beautiful song of love and longing, and ‘The Saltwater Room’ which features acoustic guitars over synths, and gorgeous vocals by Adam Young and Breanne Duren.
I must admit that I did find the music on Owl City’s Ocean Eyes to be a bit same-y, after repeated listening, but to his credit, Adam Young certainly knows how to carry a theme through an album. Despite a lack of musical variation, this record is clean, fresh and summery, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to review my initial harsh judgement of Owl City.