Owl City is not an act which inspires much “middle ground.” Either you’ve got the stomach to handle the schmaltziest of pop confections or you don’t, and if you happen to be older than sixteen and not a teenage girl the music’s most likely to baffle even the heartiest of pop fans.
Adam Young, the solo artist behind the cutesy moniker, lists God and optimism as his top influences, but even if you read through his entire list on myspace, the most obvious influence – The Postal Service – is nowhere to be found. But essentially when you distill Ocean Eyes down to its barest essentials, the entire album is that band’s Give Up for teenagers who were too young when that album was the rage in electro-pop.
The songs themselves have at least a semblance of flair, but taken more than one song at a time, the album is a draining listening experience. The backdrops of the catchiest tracks (“Hello Seattle,” “Umbrella Beach” and “Fireflies”) are all upbeat electro-synthetic dance-pop cranked up to ten, while every song features Young in all his “Hey There, Delilah”-esque glory. When heard one song at a time his raw naiveté can be somewhat endearing. Heard in sequence, however, they just reek of being 12 versions of the same song, repeated with minor variations and aimed at an audience that won’t know or won’t care.
Young recorded most of these songs on his own using a personal computer, getting signed to Universal after his songs became MySpace sensations. That this type of music would be a hit when aimed at the MySpace audience makes at least some sense. But “Fireflies” has become an inexplicable #1 Hot 100 smash and is getting radio play like crazy, which just goes to show how bizarre the schizophrenic pop landscape is circa 2009. Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga continue to dominate on one end, while at the complete polar opposite we get Miley Cyrus and Ocean Eyes.
There’s a lot of great pop music out there for discerning fans to enjoy, even if radio isn’t playing much of it. And I can usually keep an open mind toward “guilty pleasures.” Listening to Owl City’s Ocean Eyes more than once through, however, is more likely to induce the feeling one gets when consuming way too much Halloween candy in a single sitting. And in such cases, “pleasure” is rarely the word one reaches for.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.