(feat. track – “On The Wing”)

No artist has soundtracked my year like Owl City.  I can’t count the number of midnight strolls I took this year through the Lower East Side and the East Village, wandering aimlessly in the night, trying to clear my head.  This wasn’t the easiest year for me, but whether I was depressed, stressed out, lonely or just feeling a little lost, Adam Young was there to whisper silly puns and soothing melodies in my ear –  with Maybe I’m Dreaming and Of June while winter broke into spring, with “Strawberry Avalanche” and the spectacularly buoyant “Hot Air Balloon” as the air got wamer, and this summer and fall with Ocean Eyes – and they truly made everything a little bit better.

I’m in a very weird-for-me position writing about my Ocean Eyes as my Top Album of 2009.  Usually, I feel like I have to defend my choice because few people have heard it.  This year, I feel like I have to defend it because everyone has head it.  When the year began, I could never have imagined Owl City would have a chart-topping single, with the attendant incessant radio play and backlash and everything else that comes with pop stardom.  Then again, I could hardly imagine it while it was happening.  I’m a little jealous; I kind of liked having Owl City all to myself.  It doesn’t feel right to have to share him with the world, his songs have such a personal quality, though of course I’m thrilled to see his music getting the attention it deserves.

And it does deserve it.  Ocean Eyes, along with the two singles that preceded it, are more than bright, bouncy, hooky synthpop (though of course they are that too).  The endless silly puns, the menagerie of adorable flora and fauna that dance through his giddy dreams, the sweetness and goodness and sincerity that color his melodies – it’s a fully realized world, crafted in Adam Young’s deeply personal yet always accessible vision.

It’s that accessibility that’s key; Ocean Eyes is music carefully crafted to be relatable, welcoming, to always feel personal while remaining completely universal. That it’s been done so well makes Owl City my clear #1 choice.

This wasn’t a scene whose time I ever truly thought would come; as much as I love it, I suspected it to be a little too youth oriented, a little too twee and cutesy, a little too raggedy to escape the underground (though I DID think it would be looked back at as influential in years to come). I suppose time will tell whether this is the high tide that lifts all boats, or whether Owl City (or even just “Fireflies”) is merely the outlier, the blip that broke through.  Lights is a good test case; so are Never Shout Never and The Ready Set, two artists who I don’t really put squarely into the genre but whose music has run through it from time to time, both of whom look to be on the verge of getting big-time pushes.  But even if Owl City’s fate in popular consciousness is as a one-hit wonder, he’s made a lifelong fan in me.

(I couldn’t pick this album and not include the two single releases which preceded it, “Strawberry Avalanche” and “Hot Air Balloon.”  Both are absolutely essential.  If you haven’t picked up Ocean Eyes yet, wait a week or two ‘til the Deluxe version drops.  It will include both, along with the truly excellent “Hello Seattle (Remix)”, as well as what may be my favorite Owl City track, “If My Heart Was A House”.)