Picture the scene. You’re somewhere in America, seated in a polished (albeit slightly decrepit) school hall. Children bustle onstage and waving to their parents, proudly begin their song; angelic in its nuances and slight discords. Then, stepping forward as a mother hushes its baby’s cries, a young boy pierces the air with his soft intonation. Now imagine him singing over happy-go-lucky electropop and you’re somewhere near Owl City.
Indeed if there’s anything about Ocean Eyes, the project’s major label debut, that does stand out it’s Adam Young’s vocals. Whilst comparable to those of Hellogoodbye’s Forrest Kline, the lasting impression here is one of juvenility; an impression readily reinforced by the lyrics. In one particularly pertinent example he announces, “I’d rather pick flowers instead of fights” as a track of nappy-advert piano loops in the background. Appropriately enough, the song is about brushing one’s teeth. Cute.
However it should be noted that in having a single coherent theme, this track is quite unlike the bulk of the album. The indecipherable lyrical patchwork that comprises ‘Fireflies’ for example, quite happily evokes the infantile without ever hoping to make sense, chirpily announcing “I’d get a thousand hugs | from ten thousand lightning bugs | as they try to teach me how to dance”. Meanwhile, in ‘Hello Seattle’, Young declares himself to be a mountaineering seahorse with a penchant for public napping. No really.
On top of which, we have to deal with the endless harebrained puns that litter the album. At one point Young even declares, with a smug sense of cunning, “for all my pals who live in the oceans and the seas | with fronds like these well, who needs anemones?” You almost feel bad for him. Nonetheless, a sanctuary is provided in this storm, with ‘Meteor Shower’ devoid of any surplus wisecracks. Unsurprisingly, it’s the album highlight, using an effective piano melody in a simple, honest attempt at a ballad.
Lyrics aside though, the album does make for a semi-decent summer soundtrack, with breezy bounciness in ‘The Bird And The Worm’, vibrant dance passages in ‘Umbrella Beach’ and plenty of cheery keyboard flourishes throughout. Electropop forerunners, The Postal Service, would be proud. Furthermore, the songs are undeniably catchy, peppered with hooks that stick to the mind like vultures to a soon-to-be carcass. So catchy is the album in fact, that the incessant repeating in your head may have you sick of it by the second spin, assuming Adam Young’s grating optimism (“when the bombs go off, the sun will still be shining”) doesn’t make you submit before.
I can understand the popularity of Owl City; quirky pop, with cutesy and often lovesick lyrics for an early teen fan base. In this respect, Ocean Eyes is a very successful album. It’s just that musically, it’s like stroking a kitten. Those of you used to more substantial animals might not relate.