Released: Jul 10, 2015
Genre: Electropop, Synthpop
Number Of Tracks: 10
After overdoing it on the EDM flavor in "The Midsummer Station," Adam Young tries out some new genres in Owl City's fifth album, "Mobile Orchestra."
Mobile OrchestraFeatured review by: UG Team, on july 28, 2015 2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Several stars lined up just right for Adam Young to step into the professional world of music with his indietronica project Owl City. With his style being a softer alternative to the hipster disco likes of MGMT and Klaxons, as well as being a perfect caulk to fill in the Postal-Service-shaped hole that was still open, Owl City developed a cult following on Myspace early on, and made a decent indie debut with the self-released album, "Maybe I'm Dreaming." This momentum led to Young signing with Universal Republic Records to re-release Owl City's first album, as well as release a follow-up album, "Ocean Eyes," which contained his breakthrough, four-time platinum (!) single "Fireflies."
In the wake of this apex of fame, Young would begin to do a lot more collaborations - most notably with international EDM producers, like Chicane and the world-renowned Armin van Buuren. This new side of electronica that Young was exposed to rubbed off on him, and after Owl City's third album, "All Things Bright and Beautiful," garnered lukewarm reception, Young would go full-on pop EDM with Owl City's sound in his fourth album, "The Midsummer Station." In terms of commercial success, it was a smart move reaping the trendy and abundant fruit of EDM at the time, which brought forth Owl City's second-most successful single, "Good Time," which featured flavor-of-the-month pop star Carly Rae Jepsen. But with Young entrenching himself in the trendy dance-pop style, the album came off very repetitive and unadventurous.
Realizing how one-dimensional "The Midsummer Station" was, Young makes an effort to branch out some more in Owl City's fifth album, "Mobile Orchestra." The slow ballad side of Young makes a big return, with about half of the album's songs being in a low and pensive gear, which bears mixed results. On the plus side, his return to his light and playful indietronica style in "I Found Love" will easily be held in well regard by his older fans, and the 14/4 measurement and ascending transpositions in each verse of "This Isn't the End" makes for one of the smartest songs Young has composed in a while. On the negative side, the contemporary Christian cuts of "My Everything" and "You're Not Alone" (which features Christian singer Britt Nicole) are meek and mild, and the country-pop song "Back Home" reaches peak hokey on the album, equipped with by-the-book ingredients of stomp/clap beats and pedal steel swells, as well as featuring country singer Jake Owen to provide the song with a proper drawl.
In what may be a measure for the listeners who want no experimentation, however, the other half of "Mobile Orchestra" sticks to the pop EDM mode that was arguably overdone in "The Midsummer Station," and it's easy to trace back Young's influences in these dancefloor cuts. "Can't Live Without You" contains hints of Armin van Buuren's trance-pop fusion style, "Unbelievable" dons a smooth nu-disco style a la Madeon, and "Thunderstruck" is laced with some dubstep spices that were used liberally in pop music circa 2011-2012. If anything, "Verge" ends up being the most distinct of the EDM stuff, containing guest vocals from Aloe Blacc and a triumphant delayed guitar melody, but the whistle melody in the post-chorus ends up getting recycled in "Unbelievable," which takes away from the uniqueness; not to mention the whistle melodies also slightly reek of the pop cheesiness of Imagine Dragons. // 5
Lyrics: In tandem with the music side of things being much simpler to digest, Young's lyrics in "Mobile Orchestra" are shrinking in size to be more appealingly bite-size and sing-able, but mostly suffer from a lack of substance. Young's Christian inspirations are heavier-handed than ever before, heard in the Christian 101 chants of "Hallelujah, my almighty God divine" in "My Everything" and "You rescued me and I believe / That God is love and he is all I need" in "You're Not Alone," the live-in-the-now message of "Verge" makes for a simplistic uplifter, and for someone who has written plenty of lyrics lush with evocative natural imagery, Young's bout of rural appreciation lyrics in "Back Home" feel as contrived as its country-pop aesthetic. Perhaps the most agonizing of them all is "Unbelievable," where it's hollow investment in nostalgic references reads more like a Buzzfeed listicle about "Stuff Only '90s Kids Will Remember" rather than an actual song; not to mention that the guest vocals from Hanson gives the song another element of "remember back in the day when that was popular?" In another instance of tandem quality, though, the final ballad of "This Isn't the End" hits the mark in telling a woeful tragedy with the message of needing to move on no matter how tough the hardship. But as substantial as it may be, it can't single-handedly save the lacking lyrical quality of "Mobile Orchestra." // 3
Overall Impression: In the same way how Young's fruitful collaborations in dance music led to him diving head-first into the EDM pool for safe success in "The Midsummer Station," his experimentation with different styles in "Mobile Orchestra" feels mostly like Young auditioning ideas to find a new path to his next runaway pop success. His reaching into new genres comes off like grasping at straws hoping to break into a new scene - whether adult contemporary, contemporary Christian, or country - and along with trying out these styles with unchallenging songwriting, the pop EDM side of the album acts as anchor for guaranteed mass appeal. Though its variance at face value is more refreshing compared to "The Midsummer Station," the sterile safety of "Mobile Orchestra" renders the album lackluster. // 4