All Things Bright and Beautiful
2011 Universal Republic
I have a feeling this review may unfairly paint me as a misogynist, which would be incorrect, and as an elitist, which may be less incorrect, for arriving at the conclusion that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” by Owl City is music for little girls. Most likely virgins, specifically mid-to-late teens who live in repressed, conservative religious households who are saving their first kiss for their wedding day and still unironically sleep with stuffed animals.
Here’s how I arrived at this odd and somewhat creepy diagnosis:
First, I listened to the record and felt my testicles tense up like they were about to get slapped; this typically happens when I hear something overly cloying and patronizing, but it also happens when someone threatens to slap my coin purse. By the end of my first excursion through this album I was assured in my assumption that this was not music for men. Now, let me be the first to swat down that volley of sneering from those who might think that by “men” I mean “guys”; I subscribe to the school of thought that celebrates all facets of emotionalism in masculinity rather than the limited and somewhat retarded view held by popular culture which pigeonholes “men” as giant wads of aggression, semen and sports statistics high-fiving their way down the street calling each other “bra” and “hoss”. In fact, I imagine that there would be more of those types who secretly cry to Owl City alone in their pickup truck then average men might. What I mean is that Owl City is not constructed for men in that it’s bubbly electro-pop music about dreams and flowers and starlight, and that’s not what men listen to. I don’t think I’m over-generalizing here.
Thus I deduced that it must be music for women. So, secondly, I held up to my idea of what “women” listen to. What I found there was either A) Sex, either implied implicitly or withheld, tucked behind a thin robe of innocence or weird father roles. B) Empowerment, or at least the idea of it since it’s usually tied in with sex and compensating for self-esteem issues rather than being empowered by working hard, being honest and treating people well. And C) actual good music.
Owl City featured none of those qualities either so that’s where I came up with this “unspoiled captive virgin” thing. Owl City is music for girls who still want to believe in unicorns and princes and the sweetness of nature and haven’t had that special tingle in their swimsuit area. Furthermore it’s for women who wear white sweatshirts with bears on them and have 9 lace covered throw pillows on their squishy corduroy loveseat. They have a favorite pillow that they hug when they’re watching ABC Family original programming and movies on Lifetime.
Owl City is for them and they can keep it. They can keep it on their corkboard next to the collage of meaningful images cut from old magazines and washed out photos of “The Gal-Pals” monthly romp at Applebee’s. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” is the music gay robots hear when they take mushrooms. It’s a face-puckering cocktail of persistent, blind optimism coupled with fantastical, Lisa Frank-ish descriptions of magical landscapes and love and hugs that seems dangerously close to mental illness.
Musically every Owl City track sounds like it could (and probably will) be featured in the trailer for the latest template “plucky girl makes it big and finds love along the way” romantic comedy, while lyrically… well, let’s just say “… I’m a chickadee in love with the sky / but that’s clearly not a lot to crow about…” and “…i swear, there’s lots of vegetables out there / that crop up for air / and yet I never thought we were two peas in a pod / until you suddenly bloomed…” sum it up nicely. The album yearns to take the listener to a magical fluorescent foliage fantasy where seeing a dew drop on a rose petal causes such all-consuming joy that your entire being explodes into a shower of glitter and sunbeams. Instead it makes you want to eat your own face and carve the word “STOP” into your arm with a dirty bottle cap.
I didn’t think there could be a voice more saccharine and shrill than Adam Young’s but the butt-clenchingly twee performance by guest vocalist Breanne Düren in “Honey and the Bee” has shattered that notion. She sounds like a fucking Care Bear trying to flirt with a basket of baby rainbows. No, she sounds like a basket of baby rainbows doing baby talk to pocket-sized lavender elephants skipping through a field of singing, baby-headed daisies. And don’t even get me started on the RAP in “Alligator Sky”. Who the fuck is that for?! It lends about as much street-cred and edge as your mom knitting you a Crips bandana or inviting a biker gang to Chuck-e-Cheese for your birthday party.
HOWEVER. I have a weird thing about music being honest, in other words music created without the pretense of being cool, marketable or self-important. That’s a brief and summary explanation of a greater concept that I hope to go into more later. But, if there’s one thing nice I can say about Owl City it’s that it is honest music. No one would create music like this to be cool, it’s too odd to be bluntly mainstream and it does anything but take itself seriously. I mean there are songs about being in love with flowers and trees in here. Now, I don’t give music a pass for being bad simply for the argument that “some people might like it” or “it’s just fun music, what’s wrong with that?”; it’s that kind of thinking that leads to the stagnant middle where everyone stops trying and we all just ingest whatever we’re served by the marketing department. Believe me, it’s still all just awful but it’s awful in a very specific way. I know there will be people who love this record and I can’t fault them for enjoying music that somehow speaks to them, and in fact Owl City itself is actually doing minimal damage to “music” as a whole; I don’t predict many copycat acts and I don’t see a new scene of teenage fashion or hipsterism popping up, revolving around love of nature and fascination with stars and birds – well, beyond the hippie crap that hipsters already subscribe to- so I think Owl City may just be a singular example of horrifying cartoon feel-good nonsense tossed into the swirling vortex of all the other shit about to gurgle out of culture’s toilet bowl.