Adam Young just wasn’t made for these times. Although the danceable synth-pop he crafts under the name Owl City is sleek and modern—and not far from the EDM-leaning sound of today’s Top 40 radio—his thematic focus is a throwback to simpler, more innocent musical eras. Surrealistic imagery rooted in heart-on-sleeve romanticism dominates Owl City’s lyrics (sample: “I stood under the waterfall / With a kiwi-pineapple parasol”) while the peppy “Good Time,” his recent smash collaboration with pop-girl-next-door Carly Rae Jepsen, conjures chaste puppy love and G-rated summer lovin’.
Young’s unabashed sincerity still permeates the fourth Owl City album, The Midsummer Station, although this time around it’s paired with a more expansive, diverse sound. The latter development is due in part to his collaborations with proven industry vets; Relient K’s Matt Thiessen (Kelly Clarkson, Jack’s Mannequin) co-wrote “Good Time,” and the production team Stargate (Katy Perry, Rihanna) adds sparkle and uplifting arrangements around the Postal Service-y beats of “Shooting Star.”
But amazingly enough, this juxtaposition of party-minded music and heartfelt sentimentality works. Particularly impressive are two hi-NRG techno-pop jams with airtight hooks (“Dreams And Disasters,” “I’m Coming After You”), a Daft Punk-ish funk-punk workout (standout “Speed Of Love”), and a collaboration with Mark Hoppus (the dynamite rock song “Dementia,” which resembles Angels & Airwaves, the band fronted by Hoppus’ Blink-182 bandmate, Tom DeLonge). Instead of encouraging hedonism or debauchery, these tunes promote innocent fun; even the moments of uncertainty or distress somehow sound exuberant.
Despite a few clunker lines—“I’m Coming After You” boasts an extended metaphor based on law enforcement and the phrase, “You have the right to remain right here with me”—Young also shows greater maturity as a lyricist. He tones down the wide-eyed whimsy and goes for a direct, simpler approach. This is most effective on the stripped-down piano ballad “Silhouette,” a straightforward account of struggling through loneliness. The song doesn’t resort to saccharine wordplay for its impact—and as a result, it’s vulnerable and heartbreaking.
Wisely, though, it’s one of few slower moments on The Midsummer Station. By keeping things uptempo and upbeat, Young ensures there’s no time to dwell on anything but optimism and positive vibes. It’s an approach that’s not for everyone—anyone who disliked Owl City before probably won’t change their mind after listening to this album—but provides a refreshing respite from jaded, generic electronica.