Review Summary: Like having an orgasm and saving the rain forests at the same time!
“Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” Owl City visionary Adam Young sings on opener “The Real World” off his new album All Things Bright and Beautiful
, and, honestly, has there ever been a more relatable line? As our own Adam Downer recently lamented, “originality has kind of gone by the wayside these past few years, hasn’t it?” That whole “stagnation of art, music, life, culture, society, humanity etc.” that Mr. Downer commented on is seemingly omnipresent, in throwaway pop music, vapid, cardboard cut-outs of rock stars and regurgitated influences. The truth is, reality is a reused, recycled place, sadly enough, but for a little over forty minutes on Adam’s (Young) new record, he manages to transport us somewhere that isn’t so stale. All Things Bright and Beautiful
is painted in bright watercolors, day-glo synths and candy-colored drum machines backlighting lyrics that speak to the eternal optimist in all of us, the starstruck inner child who believes that anything is possible. It’s what Owl City is all about, and with this sophomore effort, Adam is living his dream, and we’re all invited to join!
If All Things Bright and Beautiful
has a mission statement, it’s that we should always be appreciative of the everyday joy around us. Adam has always been a bit of a naturalist, referencing nature metaphors and the wonders of creation throughout his promising 2009 debut Ocean Eyes
, but here his intertwining of relationships with evocative imagery is promise fulfilled. “If the green left the grass on the other side / I would make like a tree and leave / but if I reached for your hand would your eyes get wide? / Who knew the other side could be so green?” Adam croons in a delicate duet with Breanne Düren on “Honey and the Bee,” effortlessly combining natural imagery with his own unique brand of humor and a heart-on-his-sleeve approach that we could all take a lesson from in this cynical world. Lyrically, however, Adam refuses to be pigeonholed. The juxtaposition of “Kamikaze” with the Ronald Reagan vocal sample on “January 28, 1986” tastefully compares the bravery between Japanese suicide pilots and the crew of the doomed U.S. space shuttle Challenger
, respectively, while on “Hospital Flowers” Adam fearlessly lives the role of an emergency-room victim: “The curtain decayed, the daylight poured in / I was never afraid of the darkness again / my burns were third degree, but I’d been set free / ‘cause grace had finally found its way to me.” At times, Adam’s lyrics approach near poetry, no more so than on this opening stanza from “Dreams Don’t Turn to Dust,” where Adam calls out all those who have lost hope in their aspirations: “Splashdown in the silver screen into a deep dramatic scene / I swam through the theater, or maybe I’m just a dreamer / like a kite in the bright midday, Wonder stole my breath away / shy sonata for Mercury; the stars always sing so pretty.” Inspirational, to say the least.
Adam’s lyrics may be poetry, but it’s All Things Bright and Beautiful’s
array of effervescent electro-pop backing tracks that make them into an organic artistic statement. The album has suffered multiple release-date setbacks, but the extra time has actually ripened the final product. As Adam mentioned in an interview, the additional time allowed him “to better connect the dots and ensure that every cloud in the sky is stitched together with its own special silver lining.” The care and attention show; where Ocean Eyes
was often (perhaps unfairly) criticized for its one-trick pony electronic angle, All Things Bright and Beautiful
leaves no musical stone unturned. “Honey and the Bee” builds up to its delectable declaration of love with a light fingerpicked acoustic melody, cleverly drawing a thematic connection between the lack of electronic elements in the tune and its message of irrepressible love via animal metaphors. Closer “Plant Life” is an epic rocker replete with stadium-sized keyboard chords and a chorus that calls to mind similarly positive artists Train, while “Hospital Flowers” and its gentle piano melody remind us all of the fragility of human life and the eternal hope of redemption. First single “Alligator Sky,” meanwhile, is a daring venture into hip-hop, a firm notice to his critics that Adam is not afraid to delve into unfamiliar territory.
His roots haven’t been forgotten, however; on the contrary, All Things Bright and Beautiful
is a new voice for electro pop, from the pounding four-on-the-floor of “Deer in the Headlights” to the appropriately spacey vibe of album centerpiece “Galaxies.” It’s his calling card and, if anything, the sound already present on Ocean Eyes
has been refined, a finely glossed sheen of high production values polishing Adam’s potent “bedroom-pop” sound without losing any of his emotional intimacy. All Things Bright and Beautiful
is just what Adam has shown flashes of since “Fireflies” took the world by storm: a groundbreaking, original artist not unafraid to sing what he’s feeling, unfettered by societal constraints and the cynicism of the 21st century, all buttressed by a fresh take on pop that combines the best of Beatles-esque songwriting and modern electronics. The messages are universal: love everyone; notice the little things; take nothing for granted. The feeling is as primal as unwrapping presents on Christmas morning or freebasing Prozac. Most importantly, what All Things Bright and Beautiful
encourages us to do is much what Adam Young has been doing his whole career: getting better and growing, as a human being and member of this crazy little world, each as unique and equal as the next.