Electronic-pop's favorite introvert, Adam Young (better known as Owl City), returns with Coco Moon, his sixth full-length album, and first since 2018. I've followed Young's work since its inception, and nary a week goes by without recalling one of his many bubbly melodies. There's something altogether charming about the way he approaches songwriting. Like a good Pixar film, he creates many magical worlds that reveal a deeper meaning when examined, making it equally profitable for children and adults. In previous versions of Owl City, we were given mind-bending concepts, but no real place to put them. With Coco Moon, there's something all the more weighty at hand. Never have we heard Owl City more spiritually mature and forthright. Nearly every song brings with it a biblical motif and reference to his faith, from the treasure in a field parable found in Matthew 13 ("Field Notes"), to our citizenship in heaven ("Sons of Thunder"), to showing grace towards our enemies ("The Meadow Lark"). Young has always been an expert storyteller, keeping us engaged by somewhat embellishing real-life happenings. But with Coco Moon, there's a new level of wisdom present, like a grandfather offering advice by recounting well-worn experiences.
One of my favorite side projects by any artist has to be Young's Scores series, where he orchestrally chronicles some of the most iconic moments in modern world history. With those albums, I felt that Young really honed in on a recognizable sound, even creating patented guitar and synth tones. These tones and score-like flourishes become wholly proprietary when featured in an electronic-pop setting on Coco Moon. A good example of this would be "The Tornado," as Young retells a fairly innocuous story of delivering papers as a boy, bicycling in the rain, until a daunting symphonic flurry portrays a life-threatening situation.
"Adam, Check Please" begins the album on a seemingly mundane note, recalling his first job as a grocery store clerk, yet this perfectly describes the overall message Young is offering, that being the wonder in everyday life, "So chase your passion and not your paycheck/be proud of what you have/and put in the work until your signature becomes an autograph." Continuing real-life narratives in "Under The Circus Lights," we discover another of Young's calling cards, as he uses up-and-down key changes to mimic the graceful and awe-inspiring movements of a trapeze artist flying above him. By matching musical cues to each event, each song easily stands out from the rest, such as the island feel of "Kelly Time," a song that surreptitiously follows the plot points of Tom Hanks' survival classic, Castaway. Young's willingness to keep it simple, writing about everyday pleasures such as nostalgic movies (heard in the excellent "Dinosaur Park" as well), makes for a very relatable experience. The carefree, radio-friendly tracks "Vitamin Sea" and "Learn How To Surf" don't quite share these same complexities, but are still enjoyable listens, especially noting their charming wordplays.
For me, the highlights come in the more consequential numbers. "Sons of Thunder" is relentless in its encouragement towards believers, who are "uncrushable diamonds of light," while a soaring female voice assures us of our hope for heaven which will come "in the twinkling of an eye." The close of this song features my favorite lyric of the album, grounding our eternal calling with day-to-day comfort... "So take heart wild one/for there is a God/who loves you to death/no matter what you've done/so don't lose hope/cause He will lead you home." Another stand out track is the hymn-like "The Meadow Lark," which details a stand-off between two soldiers with guns aimed at each other. More key changes and instrumental surprises intensify the story to its heartwarming conclusion, tying together love for our enemies with the Lord's grace to us... "If I should live to see more days/I pray the Lord to guide my ways/with grace to love my enemy/for grace my Savior showed to me."
More could be said about each track (such as the playful outro in "Field Notes," and the sweet ode to Adam's wife "My Muse"), but I'll close by saying, Coco Moon is Owl City fully realized. There's a beautiful balance between the outlandish and the practical, which should please fans of both camps. Young's addition of deeper spiritual themes, as well as movie-score tendencies, make this, perhaps, his finest work. If you have ever been a fan of Owl City or any of Young's various projects, you'll certainly find a lot to like here. A surefire candidate for album of the year.- Review date: 5/29/23, written by Joel Zaloum of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: None
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