Owl City: Mobile Orchestra (or Life)

No matter how many singles he releases, no matter how many albums he puts out, Adam Young is never unrecognizable. Even as his style has evolved over the years, key elements of what put him on the map still remain.

In fact, some of those characteristics have only become bolder and brighter. As a twenty-something Christian, I don’t think Owl City‘s previous albums speak to me quite like Mobile Orchestra does, and it’s because the themes that make Mr. Young so relatable are more predominant and more profound than they’ve ever been.

If I had to choose a word to help me sum up the scope of Mobile Orchestra, it would be “life.” Life, tragic and beautiful. Life, with its sorrow and excitement, its pleasures and pains. Life, with its occasional glances in the rear view mirror at the past while cruising steadily into the future. Life, with joy and purpose.

As mentioned above, much of life is spent remembering the past and looking to the future. Verge (featuring Aloe Blacc) illustrates young adults emerging from tutelage, preparing to boldly embark on the next chapter of their lives, play their role in society, and impact the world. Conversely, you have childhood reminiscence in Unbelievable (featuring Hanson), in which nostalgia-filled verses about VHS, bean bag chairs, and Etch A Sketch are almost guaranteed to make you grin.

Another pervading theme of life is the drama of love. Ecstatic elation is explored in Thunderstruck. You find someone you really “click” with and, just like that – boom – suddenly your dreams are coming true and you’re “over the moon.” Heavier and deeper is I Found Love, invoking feelings of solemnity as loved ones are about to be separated by death. Yet there is peace in the knowledge of a soul that has lived well and loved well.

Not to be outdone, Back Home (featuring Jake Owen) highlights the euphoria of heading back to your old stomping grounds, while loneliness and tragedy strike in Bird With a Broken Wing and This Isn’t the End.

Keeping in mind the changing circumstances and fluctuating emotions that the other tracks seem to collectively represent, My Everything, Can’t Live Without You, and You’re Not Alone (featuring Britt Nicole) cut right through that as they illuminate the Unwavering Constant that is God. When contemplated side by side, You’re Not Alone provides the answer to the isolation and palpable inevitability of Bird With a Broken Wing. “It’s a horror show, but I’m not afraid,” because, “in the face of my depravity, for God so loved the world He died for me.” It also serves as a reminder that earthly, temporal relationships, like those in I Found Love and Thunderstruck, will never be as fulfilling as a relationship with Him because, “God is love and He is all I need.”

Part of what makes Mobile Orchestra so enjoyable is Adam Young’s small army of collaborators. Young has never shied away from sharing the limelight, but this may be collaboration on one of the widest scales we’ve seen in an Owl City album. Aloe Blacc, Sarah Russel, Hanson, Jake Owen, and Britt Nicole all lend their talents in complimentary fashion. Perhaps most notably, Hanson‘s style meshes effectively with that of Adam’s in Unbelievable, while Aloe Blacc offers soulful vocal accompaniment in Verge.

While I sort of miss the clever and humorous witticisms that no longer seem as prevalent, Young is still true to form as he holds on to the electro/synth musical tones which he is so well known for that are both mellow and exuberant. Mobile Orchestra may be the most complete album that Owl City has ever rendered because it is the most thematically structured of any of his albums to date. Adam delves deeper than ever into life and what it’s all about. No matter what’s in your future, no matter what’s in your past, no matter what life brings you, it is worth living if you find purpose and joy in the everlasting God. Whether you’re Thunderstruck, on the Verge, or a Bird with a Broken Wing, remember that You’re Not Alone and This Isn’t the End.

In a way, Mobile Orchestra is the perfect name for this album. Life always goes on, is always moving because time waits for no man, and the memories, emotions, scars, hopes, and beliefs we carry with us on our journey are like songs in our hearts.

What does your mobile orchestra sound like?

Andrew Walton

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