‘Cool artwork’ is all that Owl City’s latest effort has to offer

Consider Shrines , the recently released album by Canadian indielectronica duo Purity Ring: one of the best albums of this year so far, but with disappointingly unrepresentative album artwork. Perhaps it’s just a fluke, but all I needed to convince me that musical quality is inversely proportional to album artwork in the 2012 electronic pop scene is seeing and hearing Owl City’s new album, The Midsummer Station . With cool artwork indeed, The Midsummer Station looks like it should contain masterful, innovative music by someone more like psy-trance artist Ott, what with the luscious water, futuristic architecture, and exceedingly large fish depicted on the cover. Alas, ‘twas not to be. You may remember Owl City. The project scored a big hit in 2009 with “Fireflies,” the catchy single from its major label debut, Ocean Eyes . That album was full of mainstream pop cloaked in electronic flourishes and, at its best, recalled The Postal Service’s 2003 classic, Give Up (although, come on, Owl City could only dream of being as good as The Postal Service). The Midsummer Station , then, is by comparison (to Ocean Eyes or Give Up or really anything) not very good at all. Owl City is really the one-man project of singer-songwriter Adam Young, although Young sure could have used a lot more help here. Even though he’s been producing for years, the music on The Midsummer Station sounds strictly amateur: linear and annoyingly predictable beats and fills, dull, clubby synths, and a stark lack of anything innovative or remotely interesting. Songs like “Dreams and Disasters,” “Speed of Love,” and “Metropolis” epitomize this. Regrettable guest spots are provided on generic radio-ready songs “Dementia” and “Good Time” by Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Carly-Rae Jepsen, singer of the admittedly catchy pop-hit “Call Me Maybe,” respectively. Already receiving radio play, “Good Time” has some of the shallowest, most commonplace lyrics this side of Disney Channel: in the chorus, Young and Jepsen sing, “Woah, it’s always a good time/ Woah, we don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time.” The saddest realization, though, is that Owl City has somehow become one of the faces of modern electronica music, alongside fellow practitioners of mediocrity, such as Skrillex. Meanwhile, the truly stimulating artists of this genre – including Purity Ring, M83, Passion Pit, Air, Burial, Neon Indian, and too many others – are limited to the more underground scenes. With this misplaced popularity, it’s not wrong to wonder if the mainstream will ever discover that good electronic music actually exists. On “Silhouette,” another of The Midsummer Station ’s forgettable tracks, Young asks, “Is it over yet? Will I ever love again?” Coincidentally, this is a question that Owl City’s awful new album will have listeners asking themselves at least five songs earlier. Overall Rating: 2/10