Friday, July 10, 2015

Mobile Orchestra | Owl City

Adam Young's electronic project Owl City has never been the apple of any critic's eye. Many critics have never liked his wide-eyed innocence, his boyish voice, or his dreamy brand of electronic music. We critics (both amateur and professional, that is) have noticed that although it is always sugared with a technicolor finish that many would refer to as the "Owl City touch," Young's material has never had a steady sonic vision. Since the success of "Fireflies," his products have begun to teeter in the intersection of saturated synthpop, subtle contemporary Christian, and larger-than-life mainstream-pacification. And since consistency has never been his focus before, why would he start now on his fifth studio album? 

The showcased collaborations of Mobile Orchestra alone reveal the limitless ways Young tries to malleate a reformed version of his signature production style (a style that once gleamed with originality, but has now grown to its most uninspired, formulated stage yet, may I add). Cue the entrance of the ill-fitting Aloe Blacc on a dull-edged graduation song titled "The Verge," country star Jake Owen on the country-pop "Back Home," and the brothers of Hanson on "Unbelievable," a spectacular, nostalgia-inducing anthem that gives mention to G.I. Joe toys, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Berenstain Bears, Goosebumps chapter books, and much more. Also in the mix are Britt Nicole, who doesn't wander far from her contemporary Christian home on the overtly preachy "You're Not Alone," and Sarah Russell, a light-voiced vocalist who is so underground that she hasn't even surpassed 1,000 followers on Twitter. Russell's collaboration, the Madeon-evoking "Thunderstruck," is particularly worth a listen: it, alongside "Unbelievable," marks one of the record's only high points.

Unlike Owl City's previous albums, Mobile Orchestra is locked and loaded with extra vocalists; in fact, only half of tracks are solo efforts. But hey, maybe all of the collaborations are here to mask the fact that Young has become relatively uninteresting by himself. The closing track, "This Isn't the End," (which was pulled from last year's Ultraviolet extended play) may be the only solo track here that offers something of depth lyrically as it tells the bittersweet story of a woman still coping with the fact that her father committed suicide when she was young - that is, until Young breaks out the line "The role of a father he never deserved / He abandoned his daughter and never returned." Ouch. Perhaps next time, let's not imply suicide victims didn't even deserve to live the lives they unfortunately terminated.

This ten-track suite can (and should) be deemed half-baked by the standards of fans and critics alike. Young wasted away three years to craft a record that not only boasts a measly 35 minutes running time, but also has nothing special to offer. His past works, especially Ocean Eyes and All Things Bright and Beautiful, were stamped with sentiment and naïveté. While suggestions of those qualities still make appearances on this record, gone is the wonder-struck attitude that once made it all feel genuine; the best Young could do to replicate this magic is on "Unbelievable." Otherwise, he has morphed into a bogus religiously-charged motivational speaker - a card he plays often on Mobile Orchestra, but one that he cannot play well. If nothing else, let this album prove that an orchestra shouldn't be composed of a one-man band - especially when that one man is already on his last creative leg.

Mobile Orchestra is available now under Republic Records.

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