Owl City: ‘Mobile Orchestra’ Track-by-Track Album Review

Following up after his Ultraviolet EP, Electro/pop artist Adam Young (aka Owl City) has returned with the catchy sounds of Mobile Orchestra. Far from being substandard release, it is full to the brim with duets. And whether you are fan of dance tunes, CCM or 90’s pop, there is something for you in this new delivery from the singer who brought us “Fireflies.”

“Verge” featuring Aloe Blacc sets the album off on the perfect note. With sounds similar to David Guetta, you are immediately taken on a journey into a stratosphere full of perfectly crafted synth, dance beats, and pop melodies. The richness of Blacc’s vocals sets off Young’s punk style delivery, and as the song develops, we are taken deeper into the realm of impossible and extraordinary things.

A simple pad ushers in “I Found Love,” and we find Young mixing the sound of strings with the electro tones he is best known for. A strong backbeat carries the tale of love, and there is a sweetness to the story that provides the song with an endearing innocence and clarity often overlooked in love songs. “Thunderstruck” picks up the tempo again, and fun sounds similar to what you will find in a video game set up the duet with Sarah Russell. Their vocals complement each other exceptionally well, and Russell gives the song a pop twist it would otherwise be lacking. The cut between each beat in the breakdown is unique and stamps Young’s mark all over  a track that borders between a meaningful love song and an electro dream.

“My Everything” opens with a simple piano melody, and a back beat paves the way for a ballad and worship anthem. The boldness in the lyrics as Young sings, “You’re my light in the dark, I sing with all of my heart. Hallelujah, my almighty God, divine,” is rather extraordinary, and they are matched with a powerful melody that will lift your spirit. This is not Christian music, yet we see Young flawlessly cross the divide between the to often separate worlds of religion and music, and display with great clarity the beauty and meaning behind his own faith.

Get ready 90’s fans, because you’re favorite boy band is back. That’s right, Hanson joins Owl City on the following track, “Unbelievable,” and light-hearted whistling shapes the song into a feel-good, sunshine filled reflection on the simplicity of childhood with references to Fresh Prince, Mentos in Pepsi and the phrase “off the hook.” The variety of vocal tones adds more color to the song, and it gives it a pop/rock vibe thanks to the contribution of Hanson.

Just when you think you have a handle on the feel-good pop sound of Mobile Orchestra, “Bird With A Broken Wing,” comes in with a heavy drum beat. The verses are epic in their intensity, contradicting the beauty of the lyrics with phrases like “butterfly in the panic room.” The chorus brings in a driving electric guitar line with synth and keys to lighten the load and display in full clarity the journey we take from brokenness to light. Both heavy and light in the lyrics and melody, Young melds these elements together to deliver a song that is transparent and relatable.

Another duet is next when country singer Jake Owen joins Young in “Back Home.” A softer, more country tone, is given to the song with an acoustic base. As Owen’s quintessentially country tones enter, electronic sounds are added and the song soon turns into pseudo electro/country combo that steps outside the lines of what we’d expect of either genre. The storytelling element of the track definitely leans itself towards Owen’s vocals, and surprisingly the interchangeable nature of the song between both worlds works beautifully. Sure this track is unusual, but we see Young’s attention to detail and commitment to his craft in it, and it is delivered exceptionally well.

Returning to his synth filled roots, “Can’t Live Without You,” is an uplifting, dance track that goes all out in the electronic beats. Rising and falling depending on the content of the lyrics, it pays homage to the poeticism of Young. Ending a capella using layers of Young’s voice, the flourish of the artist’s unique style and musicianship remains.

Lead single, “You’re Not Alone” featuring Britt Nicole is arguably the weakest track on the album, and the attempt to unite the pop and electro sounds of both artists suffers due to the slow tempo of the track. That being said, the duet works within the context of the album as we see two unique styles come together and share a message of hope. I’d love to see these two duet again with a pop-inspired piece, using the same poeticism that is found in the rest of the album. Together they could kick some big goals in crossing the CCM/secular divide, and while this track is pleasant, it doesn’t showcase how much talent both artists have.

Finishing up with “This Isn’t The End,” a melancholy and beautiful track recounting the story of a father taking his life and the repercussion of this on his daughter is delivered. The courage and compassion within the lyrics are phenomenal, and I can’t speak highly enough of the honesty of Young as he talks about the pain and loss in such a situation. Using percussion and keys to communicate the journey between pain and hope, the message that “when the light goes out this isn’t the end,” is accentuated because the song explores the promise that there is more for us, beyond the struggles in life and after death.

Mobile Orchestra is unpredictable, electric, vibrant and full of meaning. The purpose behind each track is fundamentally found within its lyrics, and the precision within the instrumentation drives home the world class talent of Young. With a taste of pop, dance, country, 90’s hits and emotional ballads, the artist manages to combine the best parts of these genres to commandeer a sound unique to his own style of storytelling. Mobile Orchestra is absolutely fantastic, and as it takes you through the ups and downs of life, it will give you a soundtrack along the way.