The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


A review of the album 'Ocean Eyes' by Owl City

Owl City - Ocean EyesReview Snapshot: The third album by the Minnesotan whiz kid Adam Young is a shining example of unashamed synth-pop. From euphoric rhythms to surprisingly clever lyrics, the record is nothing if not uplifting. Unfortunately, the last few tracks descend into tortuous repetition (some of the songs seem to be based on exactly the same chord progressions), and Young's accent can be grating. Nonetheless, this is certainly Owl City's strongest album yet, and it's worth a listen, if only for a pick-me-up. 

The Cluas Verdict? 8 out of 10

Full Review: For those who are already familiar with the first two Owl City albums, released while he was still unsigned, this 2009 release won’t offer you anything new. Four tracks on the album (two mixes of ‘Hello Seattle’, ‘On The Wing’, ‘The Saltwater Room’) are simply rehashed versions of tracks from ‘Of June’ and ‘Maybe I’m Dreaming’. Even where his tracks are new, they are by no means original. We’ll forgive him for that, though, just because of the feel-good nature of his music. Crisp, dreamy and atmospheric, you’d have to have a heart of stone not to smile at the sheer happiness of ‘The Saltwater Room’ or ‘Hello Seattle’. 

The album begins with an energetic yet subtly desperate number, ‘Cave In’. Already, Young’s brilliant mind shows through: lyrics such as “If the bombs go off the sun will still be shining” are brilliantly succinct and thought provoking. ‘The Bird And The Worm’, a childlike love song, follows, mixing warm acoustic guitar with more conventional synth phrases. Once again, the lyrical genius of the artist shines through, with the brilliant wordplay "With fronds like these, who needs anemones?" Just think about it. 

The third track is possibly the best-known Owl City song, ‘Hello Seattle’. It’s catchy, but its lyrics are a little facile, and it’s nowhere near as good as the next track, the rapturous ‘Umbrella Beach’. The sheer energy is comparable to Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ or T-Rex’s ‘Children of the Revolution’, and the lyrics are just ambiguous enough to catch your attention: 

“Home is a boxcar and it's so far out of reach, Hidden under umbrella beach...” 

‘The Saltwater Room’ is another love story mixing mellow acoustic guitar with synthesizer (noticing a trend?), featuring the vocals of Breanne Duren. There are distinct echoes of ‘The Bird and the Worm’, and the issue of repetition only gets worse from here. 

‘Dental Care’, the last really interesting song, is a fun and unexpected account of a visit to the dentist. From hereon, the album deteriorates into an indistinct, sunny blur. 'Meteor Shower' is a heartfelt dedication to God (Young is a devoted Christian). 'On the Wing', a love song, is followed by 'Fireflies', which is more or less an amalgam of 'Hello Seattle' and 'On the Wing'. 'The Tip of the Iceberg' is another song of lost love, as is 'Vanilla Twilight'. 'Tidal Wave' shows Young deviating a little from his standard formula, exploring themes of sin and redemption: 

"All my life, I wish I broke mirrors, instead of promises, 'cos all I see, is a shattered conscience staring back at me..." 

Overall, though, the end of the record is pretty standard. The last two tracks, a remix of ‘Hello Seattle’ and ‘If My Heart Was a House’ (can you believe it's another love song?) are disappointing when held up to the ingenuity of the first six, even if they bring the album to a comfortable close. 

Adam Young entered the music scene as a MySpace phenomenon, and I doubt he has much long-term potential. That said, this album is certainly one of the happiest I’ve ever listened to, and to be unabashedly optimistic in today’s music scene takes courage. Considering the current climate, it’s a panacea.

Philip McDonald

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