Release Date: July 10th 2015
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
Owl City– Mobile Orchestra (Amazon mp3/iTunes)
- Verge (feat. Aloe Blacc) (3:33)
- I Found Love (3:40)
- Thunderstruck (feat. Sarah Russel) (4:08)
- My Everything (3:45)
- Unbelievable (feat. Hanson) (3:14)
- Bird With a Broken Wing (3:55)
- Back Home (feat. Jake Owen) (3:10)
- Can’t Live Without You (3:12)
- You’re Not Alone (feat. Britt Nicole) (3:55)
- This Isn’t The End (3:24)
“…Mobile Orchestra is all about variety. In the past, I’ve set out to make albums that were designed to be a singular listening experience, flowing from track to track. This time around, the songs are like ten rabbit holes that go off in different directions. I had never approached a record like this. I wanted to clear the slate and forget what I knew in order to create a new experience…” Does Adam Young need any introduction? Nope, I don’t think so- his song “Fireflies” under the popular moniker Owl City, has garnered him fans aplenty, as he rose up to fame and stardom very quickly since 2009. But just in case you are unsure of who he is, let me give you a quick rundown. The shy, introverted, young, multi-instrumentalist and insomniac, who was playing with electronic sounds in his parent’s basement in his teens and early twenties, has now become a musical mainstream phenomenon, because of the aforementioned track. “Fireflies” is the song that skyrocketed to No. 1 on many charts worldwide in 2009, and the music video with Adam experimenting with instruments and sounds in his bedroom, and with strange objects flying around. Though many have differing viewpoints on the song and the video, let’s move on, shall we?
After an immensely popular sophomore album Ocean Eyes that had the world talking (his debut album unfortunately flies by under the radar, who can remember it?), Adam released two more equally memorable and much-loved albums (All Things Bright And Beautiful and The Midsummer Station). And after dropping a mini album, the Ultraviolet EP in 2014; we are now presented with Adam’s most ambitious album to date- Mobile Orchestra. Probably his most overtly Christian album to date, Mobile Orchestra is still nevertheless vintage Owl City, with plenty of songs present which speak to our soul, as well as fun, poppy danceable tunes as well. More in this album than in any other, Adam Young is reminding us all about his faith in Christ, yet if you do not share his beliefs, then there are still a few songs that will grab your attention. One thing is for sure, Adam Young isn’t slowing down any time soon, and it’s in my opinion that Mobile Orchestra is his more musically varied and yet also focused album to date.
Known for combining fun, breezy, quirky and nonsensical electropop as well his deep and meaningful ballads and spiritual themed tracks filled with imagery and double or triple layered material; the album starts off with the explosive and inspirational mid-tempo pop song “Verge”, featuring guest vocals from Aloe Blacc. With a captivating music video also filmed and released, Adam and Aloe brilliantly exchange vocals, as they passionately sing about the first day of the rest of our lives- the moment we’re in the midst of something truly magical and special. Though the music video depicts a graduation, Adam reiterates behind the scenes that “…It’s like the last day of your life as you know it, and tomorrow everything is going to change…you’re not sure how it’s going to go, but you’re confident that you’re going to hit the ground running…”; reminding us that whenever we’re on the verge of something great, to remember to just go for those moments, because time isn’t waiting for us to move at a perfect opportunity. In fact, there is no perfect opportunity, so the message behind this song is to just be bold, brave and know what we want ‘…when I step out on the out on the verge of the rest of our lives tonight, top of the world and we’re dressed to the nines tonight, edge of the earth and we’re touching the sky tonight…’. Well done Adam and Aloe for a captivating opener with a heartfelt message about courage and determination!
In contrast, the album closer “This Isn’t The End”, previously recorded on Ultraviolet EP is a sombre and down to earth acoustic guitar and keys driven ballad about a young girl’s father who commits suicide, and her struggle to live and also forgive him after that. The track nearly brought tears to my eyes and mid way through the song, I thought that there wasn’t a message to this song. But like the motivational first song, Adam brilliantly turns around a hopeless situation and illuminates hope and life into it. In my opinion Adam should be congratulated for being courageous and taking a step not normally taken, as his fans will now know that even in the darkest of times, that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, with Adam eloquently reminding us that ‘…when the rain falls down, when it all turns around, when the light goes out, this isn’t the end…’.
Though the rest of the album musically is like Owl City’s previous albums, lyrically Adam has made an intentional decision to sing more about his faith in God, which is somewhat refreshing to hear, as it makes the album as a whole probably something of a testimony of Adam’s. 5 out of the 10 tracks are somewhat about his relationship with Jesus, though three out of the five are more ambiguous, and can be interpreted in many ways by the Christian and mainstream media. The piano pop soothing and reflective ballad “My Everything” explicitly mentions that Jesus is Adam’s everything, as he proudly and unashamedly declares ‘…You’re my light in the dark, and I sing with all of my heart, hallelujah, my almighty God divine, hallelujah, I am Yours and You are mine, this is all I know I will say…’, and can be sung while watching the simple and heart-warming music video. While Adam’s duet with Britt Nicole on the piano prominent “You’re Not Alone”, a radio single in 2014, is a worthy inclusion here, as they both sing beautifully in harmony, and provide us reassurance that we are not alone in this life, proclaiming that Jesus has ‘…rescued me and I believe that God is love and He is all I need from this day forth for all eternity…’. Maybe Britt should rerecord tthis song and feature it on her new studio album releasing later on in the year? That’s how impacting and poignant this song is in my opinion; I cannot hear this song often enough- it’s been the song out of the ten that I am drawn to many times while listening to this project!
Led by melodic keys and an ethereal atmosphere that reminds me musically of Owl City’s previous 2009 hit “Vanilla Twilight”, Adam ardently sings about two different kinds of loves in “I Found Love”. About his love for a girl even after the relationship has failed, Adam also describes the love we have for the eternal God, and reminds us that while earthy love can fade, once we have found a love that last forever aka Jesus, we should never let Him go, as we ask Him to ‘…lead me home and lift me up above the stars and even higher, I’m not afraid because Your love, it falls like rain and burns like fire…’. Musically similar to “Good Time”, the dance/electropop/EDM trance track “Thunderstruck”, sung with Sarah Russell, is also sung ambiguously, and could be about an earthly romantic love the moment he meets a girl, but could also be about God, as Adam reiterates that ‘…I’ve never felt so wide awake, I’m wonderstruck, I love how you take my breath away, I’m thunderstruck…’. And the final song that could be interpreted to be about God is “Can’t Live Without You”, as Adam earnestly celebrates through haunting electric guitar and synth, vividly and through metaphors, that ‘…You reach down out of nowhere and pick my heart up off the floor, you put my life back together and I’m not broken anymore…’, a prayer of thanks and gratitude. But if you, like many others, aren’t sure about this new and more transparent Owl City, and prefer some of his more upbeat, more lyrically creative songs, than don’t worry, Mobile Orchestra has some offerings for you too!
“Bird With a Broken Wing”, in my opinion, is one of the strangest Owl City songs ever recorded, but don’t let that assessment stop you all from listening to this song if you want to. Sung in the perspective of someone with low self-esteem (I think!), Adam reiterates among epic orchestral music, and through imagery and metaphors, that powering through life is a struggle if you have no one in your corner supporting you. Though offering no real solution to the plight of someone going through a tough ordeal, the song does make us think about our priorities and helping the less fortunate, the ‘birds with the broken wings’…although the song structure and the atmosphere is a bit weird and slightly off putting. Though the country style electric guitar led ballad “Back Home”, featuring Jake Owen on guest vocals is much more catchy and engaging, with Adam and Jake nostalgically reminiscing about their hometowns, and their longing to go back to their roots, as they ‘…pack your bags, it’s time to go, cause we’ve got brighter lights back home…’.
But if you really want to hear Adam Young as Owl City in his element, then lyrically and creatively nothing can compare to “Unbelievable” with Hanson, and their insanely epic animated music video! Lyrically, it’s probably the weakest song on the album, in the respect that there’s isn’t really a message there that seems to be long lasting, but the harmonies and the cheesiness factor makes this song thoroughly enjoyable. Adam Young grew up in the 90’s, so in this song, he, with the help of his music role models who were big in the 90’s, lists Adam’s favourite things to do in the 90’s, highlighting that time moves so fast, and that remembering the good times in your life and how far technology and everything else has come, is unbelievable and mind boggling if you think about it. It’s hard to comprehend what will happen over even the next five years, yet this song reminds us to appreciate life where we’re at, and indirectly advises us to thank God for His provision. Well done Adam and co for a compelling set of songs that inspires us and on the whole draws us closer to God.
One of the surprise albums that I love this year (probably the first Owl City album that I didn’t outright hate any of the tracks!), Mobile Orchestra has me saying something that I have never said before- that I’m excited for Owl City’s future projects. And that’s saying something about the calibre of these 10 songs as I only consider myself a casual fan of Adam Young (though it helps when songs like “My Everything” and “You’re Not Alone” that champion Adam’s Christian faith, are included and are so catchy!). Fans of his earlier work will thoroughly enjoy this batch of new songs, and hopefully will come to know Christ, and I would also encourage newer fans or non-fans to check out the album as well, as Adam skilfully and professionally combines his silly lyrics with his serious lyrics, together for a memorable ride and fun and honest experience. Well done Adam for captivating me for 35 minutes (the downside is that Mobile Orchestra is too short!), let’s hope and pray that future albums do not have Owl City watering down the Christian faith in order to sell records!
3 songs to listen to: Verge, My Everything, You’re Not Alone
RIYL: Switchfoot, Relient K, Hawk Nelson, Brooke Fraser, Joy Williams