‘Cinematic’ album review
artist: Owl City
release date: June 1, 2018
star rating: four out of five
review by Levi Yager
Owl City has taken flight once again with the release of Cinematic this summer. All in all, the album is a welcome return to the dreamier side of Owl City.
The general idea behind Cinematic is that life is sort of like a collection of movie scenes pieced together into the fabric of our individual narratives. Most of the moments Owl City brings to light on the album are from founding member Adam Young’s life experiences. Accordingly, there’s a significant focus on relationships – especially with family.
Cinematic starts strong, with “Fiji Water” confidently tumbling through the gate on bouncy synths and a solid melody. It tells of the time before Young signed a major record deal when he was younger. He sings, “Hey, thanks for the weekend. I ain’t a smooth talker, but thanks for the Fiji Water.” It’s basically about sticking to your guns – but also being grateful for new opportunities at the same time. “Fiji Water” is a song that you’ll be glad to have stuck in your head.
It’s followed by “The 5th of July,” which paints beautiful, quaint scenes of the events, people and places surrounding the day of Young’s birth. It’s extremely sentimental – and actually quite touching.
The gems on Cinematic are scattered across the album pretty evenly. On the rest of the first half, songs worth noting are “House Wren,” Montana” and “Lucid Dream.” Each of those tracks taps into different reservoirs of thoughts and emotions and leaves a lasting, pleasant impression – more so than some of the other cuts on Cinematic.
The middle lags a little bit, but the album picks up again with back-to-back highlights “Madeline Island” and “Be Brave,” the 11th and 12th tracks. “Madeline Island” is unique in that it uses some sound effects from nature (bugs, birds, etc.) to add to the musicality of a song about a trip to the island with friends. “Be Brave” is a true show-stealer on Cinematic. A piano power-ballad about breaking through trepidation and loneliness to talk to a girl, it’s both poignant and powerful – yet somehow wonderfully simple. It’ll get you singing the words of the title at the top of your lungs. Also, the use of dynamics on “Be Brave” is neat to hear, as Owl City intentionally exhibits the interplay between quiet and loud moments.
The final noteworthy standard tracks on Cinematic are the final two, “Firebird” and “Cinematic.” The former is about growing up with a brother amidst the changes that life brings. It has the ability to flood the listener’s mind with memories of the good ole days growing up with siblings. Young closes the song by singing, “Let me hop into your red Firebird again.” The last song, the title track, is really just a last hurrah that embellishes the metaphor of “your life is a movie.” It’s a fun closer that encourages you to follow your dreams.
There are three alternate versions of songs off Cinematic after the title track. They each have a significantly different feel than the original versions, being generally either more electronic or more chilled-out.
Cinematic is one of Owl City’s stronger albums, in the big picture. The songs are fairly linear this time around, but the straightforward approach works well for these tracks. The sonic palette Young dips his brushes in for this album is also varied enough to create a soundscape that’s fleshed-out well. Even if you haven’t given Owl City a listen in a while, I’d recommend giving Cinematic a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised. It’s got more than a few good stories to share.