All Things Bright and Beautiful
One of the more unlikely success stories of 2009 was that of then 23-year-old Adam Young—the lone member of Owl City. Laboring over keyboards and computers in his parents' Owatanna, Minn., home, Young crafted the wonder-filled, techno-pop No. 1 hit "Fireflies," a song that was actually about those luminous insects.
"Fireflies" propelled Young from obscurity to instant fame. It also gave him a platform to talk about the convictions that have shaped him. In April 2010, he told Christianity Today, "Faith is the reason I do what I do, imagination is the fuel that keeps the creativity flowing. The Lord Jesus Christ is my reason for creating and I have nothing but thanks and gratitude toward Him for being allowed to do what I do, and ultimately, seize my wildest dreams as if they were just there waiting for me. … I came to know the Lord in middle school after hearing a testimony at church. From then on, I've just wanted to serve Christ in every way I know how, music being the only thing I've ever considered myself any 'good' at. I guess my whole message or goal of this whole operation is to bring glory to Jesus Christ by all that I do and say, not just as it relates to Owl City, but in all areas of my life."
An unknown no longer, Young returns with Owl City's third studio album, All Things Bright and Beautiful, another effervescent, hypnotic fusion of synthesizers and wide-eyed innocence as he croons about the glory of the universe … and the God who created it all.
"The Real World" feels like a lost poem from the heyday of the Romantic era. "I saw the autumn leaves peel up off the street," Young begins, "Take wing on the balmy breezes and sweep you off your feet/You blushed as they scooped you up on sugar maple wings/To gaze down on the city below, ablaze with wondrous things." Similar sentiments saturate "Honey and the Bee" and "The Yacht Club."
"January 28, 1986" adds a synthesized backdrop to a snippet of Ronald Regan's post-Challenger explosion speech. We hear the president say, "We will never forget them … as they slipped from the silver bounds of Earth to touch the face of God." Celestial and spiritual themes also spin through "Galaxies," which imagines an astronaut blasting into the heavens. He confesses, "Dear God, I was terribly lost when the galaxies crossed," then insists, "But dear God, You're the only North Star/I would follow this far/Oh telescope, keep an eye on my only hope/Lest I blink and be swept off the narrow road/ … For He is the saving grace of the galaxies." "Alligator Sky" offers another take on astronauts living in space, as one of them quips, "A house on the cloud and God's my landlord.
On "Hospital Flowers," a man burned in a car accident says the tragedy helped him see life with renewed clarity: "A high-speed collision gave a new sense of sight to me/ … My burns were third degree/But I'd been set free/'Cause grace had finally found it's way to me." A friendship on "Plant Life" helps bring a man back to life after he'd begun to feel dead. "Dreams Don't Turn to Dust" proclaims exactly that message, encouraging dreamers to hold onto their hearts' desires.
"Deer in the Headlights" offers one of the album's few down-to-earth moments, as Young tries to puzzle out exactly how romance is supposed to work: "The female mystique takes my breath away/So give me a smile or give me a sneer/'Cause I'm trying to guess here." The song also hyperbolically compares Young's romantic failures with getting pepper sprayed and socked in the nose (for no reason at all) by uninterested women.
If the phrase "all things bright and beautiful" sounds vaguely familiar, well, it is. "The Anglican hymn as well as the James Herriot book were a big part of growing up for me. I was raised singing the hymn in church, and my mother was a huge fan of Herriot's literary works and always had them around the house," Young recently explained to Christianity Today. "The title was floating around in my head for who knows how long before I put two and two together and said, 'That's it. That's what the new record has to be called.'"
Young's latest effort is indeed brimming with brightness and beauty, bringing to mind Paul's words in Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."
Adam Young seems to have taken that counsel to heart. Elsewhere in his most recent conversation with Christianity Today's Mark Moring, he talked about how the ideas we focus on shape our perspective on reality: "I find it fascinating how some people think of daydreaming or 'escapism' as a reckless way of turning one's back on responsibility, but for me, it couldn't be more opposite. The idea of going to/returning from a place in my head where everything is beautiful and absolutely perfect has an uncanny way of influencing almost everything I do, whether it be creating music or writing lyrics or even living life day to day. I love imagining what the world would be like if things were in fact perfect because it makes me want to do whatever I can to fulfill that dream in and around my own life. The line [in the song 'The Real World'], "Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn't want to live there" is a fun way of saying I appreciate life exactly as it is, and although I can't change the world by any means, I can touch it."
And so he does.