Album Review: The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP by Owl City

August 2nd, 2013

original-owl-city-tms-acoustic-600pxRegular bands are enough of a chore in an industry where bands tend to live or die by trends, changing attitudes, and whether or not someone can successfully get more than two individuals together in the same room without everyone trying to kill each other. Between personal issues, personal attitudes, and combining this with the physically and mentally exhausting task of maintaining presence in an industry where first impressions can mean either making the front page as the newest sensation or winding up playing in seedy bars populated by hipsters and barhoppers, it’s little wonder some people consider going solo as a more lucrative alternative. After all, being the only person in your group means not having to share the potential spoils of your success, being allowed to express yourself without anyone else resenting or outright protesting, and having more freedom overall in terms of your career.

Of course, a one-man band, or a solo career in general, is a double-edged sword; being the only person means you have no one to blame but yourself if things go awry, and it also means you have to work that much harder to stand out in the crowd. It’s all the more impressive, then, when a one-man band manages to stand out and can attract legions of fans who turn the one-man show from indie cult hit to mainstream success story. Such has been the case with Adam Young, frontman, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist for the electronic one-man band Owl City, whose music project sees the release of The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP, a follow-up to 2012’s The Midsummer Station and a side dish of sorts while Adam prepares his fifth studio album.

As suggested by the title, The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP features a selection of songs from The Midsummer Station that received heavy airplay – “Good Time” sans Carly Rae Jepsen, “Shooting Star”, and “Gold” – with an acoustic twist to each of these in favor of the somewhat over-polished radio pop flair that most people would associate with these songs, and indeed Owl City as a whole. In addition to these re-imagined songs, Adam also includes two new B-sides – “Hey Anna” and “I Hope You Think of Me” – that wouldn’t sound out of place as bonus tracks on The Midsummer Station.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing, since the light-hearted synthpop that Owl City fans – or Owl Citizens, as they shall be referred to hereafter for convenience’s sake – have grown to love is still very much present, and it’s nice to see an artist put out tracks that have been given an alternate interpretation while still retaining their essence. Fans who didn’t care for The Midsummer Station and its decision to experiment with a more radio pop sound in favor of a unique synthpop sound might see this reworking of several tracks as an opportunity to give tracks that might have been dismissed the first time a second glance through a new perspective.

Most people who think of Owl City tend to associate Adam with his runaway hit “Fireflies”, which went on to become one of the most played songs on radios nationwide until Adam and Carly Rae Jepsen teamed up to produce the equally played and equally catchy “Good Time”, because apparently Carly thought unleashing “Call Me Maybe” upon an unsuspecting nation wasn’t enough for her. Adam’s first acoustic effort, however, demonstrates that he can certainly do more than synthpop and radio pop. The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP makes a strong case for an acoustic-flavored Owl City, and I honestly wouldn’t mind if Adam continued to take this approach in the future. On the subject of “Good Time”, I found myself pleased with the re-imagined songs and liked the calmer approach each of these songs took, as opposed to the party-hopping tracks they were on Adam’s previous effort. “Good Time”, in particular, sounds very nice when it’s less of a sugar rush-fueled celebration of fun and more of a soother, gentler tone – a sugar crash, if you will – that feels at home with some of Adam’s previous works.

If there was a caveat to be had with this extended play, it’s that there’s a very limited selection from The Midsummer Station on display here. Granted, that’s the entire point of an extended play, but it’s hard not to feel as though some potential was lost here. Of course, Adam probably doesn’t have the time to give every song from The Midsummer Station the acoustic treatment, what with his musical involvement in Hollywood productions like The Smurfs 2 and the necessity to make sure his eventual fifth album is ready to go, but I would have liked to have seen a larger selection. Who knows, it might have given some songs from The Midsummer Station a dose of renewed exposure. Also, the B-sides are pleasant and will make Owl Citizens feel right at home, but I doubt the B-sides will be anything other than B-sides. Then again, maybe simply sounding nice isn’t so bad at the end of the day.

Doing anything on your own in a competitive industry is gutsy, but being able to pull it off and maintain that success is commendable. Adam’s gamble has paid off handsomely with three EPs and four studio albums with a fifth waiting in the wings. The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP is a pleasant surprise from Owl City that demonstrates Adam’s adaptability in music variations while being a nice side dish for fans that have grown to love and support Adam throughout the years. That being said, if you aren’t an Owl Citizen or aren’t a fan of synthpop, The Midsummer Station – Acoustic EP is probably not going to be your long-awaited epiphany. But if you are an Owl Citizen, or you’re simply looking for something new, then this album just might be a midsummer night’s dream come true for you.

Good Time (Acoustic)

-John Martinez

 


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