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Mobile Orchestra" by Owl City - Newest album crosses into Christian genre
For those unfamiliar with Owl City, you might wonder why I'm covering them under the topic of Christian and Gospel music. They are more known in the genre of electronic or pop music. Outside of that, they have created songs for a number of children's movies and appeared on a few TobyMac Christmas songs. But as you dive into the life of vocalist Adam Young, it is quite obvious that he is a person of faith, who no longer shys away from it, bringing a message of hope to his listeners in his latest release Mobile Orchestra.
While the name Owl City implies a group of musicians, the band name is actually more of an alias for a single artist, Adam Young, who created most of the musical material. That is why the focus is entirely on his journey that lead to the release of this new and quite unusual album.
I've always been a fan of their music since the first album Ocean Eyes in 2009. The catchy melodies were a perfect match to lyrics that returned me to my youth. There was a childlike innocence to the songs, with poems and stories set to electronic gems and the perfectly autotuned voice of Adam Young. I could see underneath the electronic manipulation that he could actually sing. He just enhanced it to a sugary sweetness for our listening enjoyment. The sound fit the definition of "pop music", but with a unique flavor. The song "Fireflies" became a big hit.
When reading comments online about the album Ocean Eyes, I was stunned by someone's experience at a live Owl City show. After performing the song "Meteor Shower" Adam formed his hand into the shape of a "J" and lifted it into the air heavenward. It was that person's impression, that he was using it to represent Jesus. The lyrics to that song "I am not my own. I have been made new" seem to demonstrate being made as a new creation in Christ. I had a new appreciation for the music, knowing that he was a Christian artist, who just chose to sing pop songs.
One day, while looking up Owl City on You Tube, I stumbled upon a video for the song "In Christ Alone". Of the many artists who have covered this song, this was by far the best. I imagined that this is truly what worship music in Heaven must sound like! The song was never released as a single or on an album, and I noticed many of his fans on You Tube pleading with him to a Contemporary Christian album.
After hearing that song, I didn't have any doubt that he was a Christ follower, but I was reassured when reading Adam's blog. This is where the artist shared the very heart of who he is, with scripture postings, quotes from Christian authors, and his thoughts about loving God, more than the fame of being a music star.
Visit Adam Young's blog
Most of their music appeals to a wide audience, and does not attempt to isolate itself in the Christian genre. There are a few songs that give more than subtle clues of a Christian influence without sounding overly preachy. One of my favorites from the album "All Things Bright and Beautiful" is the song "Galaxies" which showcases the joy of our salvation in the end of times. "Dear God, I was terribly lost when the galaxies crossed and the sun when dark. But dear God, You're the only North Star I would follow this far". Later in the song, he proclaims boldly "For He is the saving grace of the galaxies."
In early 2015, I saw the first taste of his new direction with the single "You're Not Alone". The song featured the Christian artist Britt Nicole. The song was inspirational and catchy. I didn't have any expectation of more music in this style, and waited patiently for a future album, hoping he would follow this path.
A few weeks ago, I noticed more Owl City singles were released, with an album due out on July 10th. Upon hearing the song "My Everything", I was overjoyed to hear Adam using his talents to give glory to God. The lyrics made a simple yet bold statement to show that he was no longer holding back in expressing his faith.
The album "Mobile Orchestra" includes the 2 songs mentioned above, along with tracks that are definitely in the genre of pure pop and dance music. In addition to venturing into the CCM genre, it includes the addition of a diverse group of guest vocalists. The song "Verge" features singer Aloe Blacc. "Back Home" features country singer Jake Owen. "Unbelievable" features (believe it not) members of the 90's boy band Hanson.
The artist explains in his own words, on his commentary album, the reason for the change in his musical style. "This is like my introductory attempt at making it known how important my faith is to me. I feel like that by not making that fact an obvious one, I would almost be doing a disservice to myself. I would be hiding behind a mask". This is a wonderful testimony of his spiritual maturity. As a successful musician it's easy to see a career as defining himself, but deep inside he knows that the meaning of life is not to found there.
Rather than review all the tracks on the album, I am focusing on my two favorites, which are "worship" style songs - "You're Not Alone" and "My Everything". My opinion, is that the pop/dance tracks, don't reach the level of brilliance that his earlier works of this genre had achieved. When creativity of an artist moves in another direction, this is bound to happen. Adam's focus is on sharing God, not in trying to portray clever ideas in his lyrics. As much as it disappointments me, to not see him reach his potential, it shows a willingness to let God take center stage. He might lose a few non-Christian fans, but for those like myself, we have a different view. I'd rather hear a few inspirational tracks with the rest being mediocre, than a whole album that conforms to mainstream music's ideals.
The song "You're Not Alone" has a beautiful melody with a pleasant pairing of Adam Young and Christian singer Britt Nicole. The lyrics are typical of a worship song, with the vocals appeal of a pop song. The chorus begins with " You rescued me and I believe that God is love and He is all I need". He continues by encouraging those that feel distant from God with " I close my eyes and hear You say. You're not alone". Towards the end of the song, the duet proclaims the Gospel with "In the face of my depravity For God so loved the world He died for me".
The track "My Everything" includes simple lyrics that give all praise to God and how we belong to Him. The song starts from a place of frustration, but leads to trust and surrender. " When hope is lost and my strength is gone I run to you and you alone". The chorus is an uplifting shout of "Hallelujah My almighty God divine Hallelujah I am yours and you are mine". Later, the worship builds up to a prayerful heart with "When sorrow knocks me down and you pick me off the ground I lift my hands up". These amazing lyrics are set to a lovely melody and outstanding vocals comparable to his previous non-Christian tracks.
Finally, I would conclude that some Owl City fans might regret buying the entire album, for a lack of consistently good tracks. I would agree, but for me personally, the two outstanding Christian songs would make it well worth the money spent. I admire him for using his position in the music spotlight as a platform for spreading the love of Jesus. This may not be pleasing to all of the listening audience. But when a musician feels freedom, to express what is dearest to his heart, there is certainly something good to come from it.