Two years after the one-man synthesizer maestro behind Owl City released The Midsummer Station, there's still no new full-length album anywhere to be seen. To tide fans over, Adam Young is releasing shorter, EP-length samples of what he's working on. "It was a change of pace, and it just felt like the right plan to release the EPs and then the new album," he says on his website. "The EPs are like short stories that collectively add up and tie together for the full-length."
The first of those "short stories," Ultraviolet, comprises four songs that paradoxically pair angst, struggle and mourning with an unquenchably upbeat, optimistic and hopeful outlook—and, of course, Owl City's equally unquenchably happy, synthy, pop sounds. Indeed, Ultraviolet proves a perfect title for these songs, referring as it does to a light beyond our ability to see with the naked eye. Instead, it takes faith and hope to believe the metaphorical light is still there, even in the dark times. And it's a faith Young hints is placed in God.
"Beautiful Times" tells us darkness, storms and fear are inevitable, but that the sun will rise. ("I fought all through the night/Oh, oh, but I made it out alive/The sun's starting to rise/Oh, oh, these are beautiful times/The fight of my life is so hard, so hard/But I'm gonna survive"). "This Isn't the End" narrates a tear-jerking and instructive story of a young girl struggling to come to grips with her father's suicide. Of the man's selfish action, Young sings, "The role of a father, he never deserved/He abandoned his daughter and never returned." The poignant pay-off after verses full of ache? "And over the years, though the pain was real/She finally forgave him and started to heal/ … Love is confusing and life is hard/You fight to survive 'cause you made it this far/ … It's just the beginning, this isn't the end."
Framing fears in terms of beastie-haunted nightmares, "Wolf Bite" offers up not just another monster mash, but instead a platform for Young's plea for deliverance from his anxieties—a plea that could easily be heard as a prayer. "I wanna get my life right," he says. "Will you show me the way tonight?"
A simile references a drug user's high on "Beautiful Times" ("I'm ecstatic like a drug addict/Locked in the attic/Strung out and spellbound").
He sounds perpetually sunny and upbeat, but Adam Young isn't at all afraid to tread into murky, fear- and heartbreak-filled spaces. "Up All Night," for example, unpacks pain in the wake of a breakup ("I just can't get you off my mind/ … It's tearing me upside"). And that gives the music on Ultraviolet a surprising amount of heft.
But excepting "Up All Night," the emotional heaviness is largely counterbalanced with hope and perspective that seem to derive from a source bigger (and more sacred) than Young's determination alone. We can face the hardness of life with courage because, Young hints, we can call out for help.
In a March 2014 interview, Young said, "The thing I've come to learn about life is never to rely on an expectation of how things will be in the future. Because you never know what's coming for you, so you gotta take it one day at a time and be thankful for what you have while you have it. That's me every day, thanking God for letting me live my dream, because if it all goes away tomorrow, I wanna be glad for what I had."