Adam Young, the one-man band from Owatonna, Minn., who goes by the name Owl City, recorded his major-label debut, “Ocean Eyes,” in his parents’ basement in the late ’00s, emerged briefly to become a platinum-selling pop sensation, and then retreated to the basement to craft a follow-up — the sugary, wistful “All Things Bright and Beautiful.”
“All Things,” like its predecessor, is an exercise in guileless emotronica. Young, 24, has a poetry major’s fondness for metaphor (“Downy feathers kiss your face and flutter everywhere,” he sings on the burbling synth-pop song “The Real World.” “Reality is a lovely place but I wouldn’t want to live there”), a sentimentalist’s view of the world and a teenage girl’s view of love. On “Deer in the Headlights,” one of several tracks that suggest the theme song to a long-lost ’80s sitcom, you can practically see the hearts dotting the lyrical i’s.
Young brings as much variety as he can to these dreamy, fluttery songs. There are guest rappers, brief adventures in techno, indie and Euro-pop, and even a Ronald Reagan sample: “January 28, 1986” serves up Reagan’s Challenger address on a bed of oohs, aahs and synths. Young sounds uncannily like Postal Service/Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, and at its best “All Things” resembles the Postal Service for tweens.
Young wrote, produced and played almost every note himself, and the insularity works in his favor. It’s tempting to wonder what kind of album he might make with a chamber pop ensemble and a steady diet of Brian Wilson records. It would probably be better, but it wouldn’t be the same.
“Plant Life,” “The Real World”