Very few things give me a bright burst of nostalgia like listening to “Fireflies” by Owl City. Not only does the ridiculously catchy 2009 hit remind me of a simpler time, but it also fills me with a sense of awe at simple things now. It’s hard to express the impact this imaginative and odd song about insomnia has had on me. Ever since “Fireflies,” I’ve been inspired by the works of Adam Young’s one-man-band.
Well, Adam has done it again with his newest album, Coco Moon.
Somehow, this collection of electronica songs (even though I didn’t listen to them years ago, like I did “Fireflies”) gives me a similar sense of nostalgia as well as awe at the world God has created and the stories within it. The music reminds me that there’s wonder all around us, as long as we look for it, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Magic in the Ordinary
The album opens with “Adam, Check Please,” an autobiographical song (reminiscent of Owl City’s previous album, Cinematic) about Adam’s first job at a grocery store. In a quirky, upbeat, and sometimes humorous way, it looks back on how quickly life can change. While stylistically, I don’t think it compares to the next track I’ll discuss, it still manages to show the magic in the seemingly ordinary parts of our lives.
As I’ve kept listening, “Dinosaur Park” quietly became my favorite song in Coco Moon before I even realized the love I had for it. Brimming with childlike wonder, it asks what would happen if (friendly) dinosaur statues came to life at night. Lines like:
When the moon's sitting pretty above Rapid City There's much more than meets the eye And I can only imagine what strange things could happen When nobody's on Skyline Drive
…just fill my heart with enchantment. I want to look at the things that surround me like this!
We Are The Odd Music-Makers
“Sons of Thunder,” a track sitting near the center of the album, is packed with imagery that encompasses what I believe could be the mission behind the entire album. Right from the start, it references the fantastic reality that we as believers face when the Lord calls us home:
We are the new sons of thunder We are uncrushable diamonds of light We are the daughters of wonder And when we leave the Earth With a shower of sparks We'll meet in the sky and we'll walk among the stars.
Soon, the song’s focus shifts to what I see as the Christian creative’s calling to uniqueness. “We are the odd music makers / We are the dreamers of unusual dreams.”
This is one of those songs that I want to quote, well, pretty much all of:
We are the gifted inventors And even though we are strange and exquisitely scarred We won't need to pretend to be anything we aren't When we walk among the stars The pleasure will be ours And with young unbroken hearts We'll walk among the stars.
Throughout the album, Adam demonstrates the vivid creativity God has gifted him with as an odd music maker with a variety of story-based songs. “Under the Circus Lights,” a lighthearted circus love story, “Kelly Time,” a retelling of the film Castaway from the perspective of the volleyball (if you’ve seen the movie, it’ll make sense, and if you haven’t, it’s still a fantastic track, trust me!), and “The Tornado,” a heavy yet hopeful narrative about a boy stuck in a tornado are all examples of his extraordinary storytelling abilities.
I don’t remember the last time I heard a story-based song that emotionally delivers like “The Tornado” does. It almost sounds like it belongs in a Broadway musical. From nearly yelling his prayer “save me from this terrible nightmare,” to telling himself that if he “went home to heaven, at least that’s where I’d belong,” to the grateful relief of knowing that “it’s always darkest before the dawn,” this symphonic epic is a journey.
But some of Coco Moon’s songs are just plain-old fun. Ocean-inspired tunes “Vitamin Sea” and “Learn How to Surf” will get listeners imagining a vacation at the beach and encouraged to “Go with the flow ’cause the tides always turn / And sink or swim, divin’ in is the best way to learn.”
“Field Notes,” a rich imagining of Matthew 13:44, might be one of the few parables I’ve heard in song form:
There's a couple of things more precious than gold One is your heart and the other's your soul And you've got something unique that nobody can steal It's a fable, you see and the moral is this Your heart's with your treasure, wherever it is And trust me when you dig, a treasure will be revealed And you never know what could be buried in the middle of a field.
“The Meadow Lark” is a similar but slower story-based track. This time, it’s about two opposing soldiers and the impact of faith, and its message is overwhelmingly clear:
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.
These Biblical truths are simple and beautiful.
At last, the album closes with “My Muse,” a touching and down-to-earth ode to his wife. That’s another thing I appreciate about Coco Moon and Owl City’s newest albums: as different as much of it is to his earlier work, he balances the imagination with groundedness in a way that shows that there’s extraordinary beauty in the reality God, in His goodness, has given us.
Overall, Coco Moon is an imaginative album that the whole family can enjoy. Adam Young is a rare talent, and he’s been doing this for years—creating fantastical, wonder-filled art that stays true to his artistic vision (no matter how unlike the mainstream it is) and glorifies God through it. I believe art like this—overflowing with both awe and truth—exists to remind us that “there’s magic afoot unseen in the dark” (“Dinosaur Park”) even in the more mundane moments, and the Lord has placed that in our own not-so-ordinary lives.