There are many reasons to dislike Owl City, the electro tweepop project spearheaded by Owatonna, Minnesota 23-year-old Adam Young. For one thing the moniker is horrible. You can name yourself after a town or a continent – say, Boston or Chicago or Europe – but you can't name yourself after a city with the word “City” in the title. That's why there are no bands named “New York City” or “Oklahoma City.” The fact that it's a pretend city makes it worse.
Young told Minneapolis' City Pages that he took the name from a “wee incident” in Scotland while visiting his grandmother in Edinburgh in the mid-90s. He was “waltzing scot-free through the lovely Scottish foothills” when he found himself in a forest full of owls. “Big owls, small owls, fat owls, skinny owls, tall owls, short owls, smart owls, dumb owls, tough owls, sissy owls, owls who climb on rocks…you name it.” He neglects to say exactly how this caused him to call his group Owl City but, frankly, I don't want to know, because listening to him explain anything is a dispiriting exercise.
Plenty of fellow musicians probably dislike Owl City because his rise has been so rapid. Young initiated the project less than three years ago, quickly became a MySpace sensation and signed with Universal earlier this year. The digital release of his debut, Ocean Eyes (%@$!) in July achieved iTunes domination by moving hundreds and hundreds of thousands of downloads, and the album's physical release cracked Billboard's top 30 and has had plenty of staying power. And while it might be easy to hate on a kid who sells out shows around the country without having paid any dues, that is not the main reason to dislike Owl City.
No, the main reason to dislike Owl City is because they are a Postal Service rip-off, lock stock and smoking pole. Young has obviously spent plenty of time listening to Ben Gibbard's mopey, existential lyrics and Jimmy Tamborello's soaring laptop jams. As such, Ocean Eyes is a poor facsimile of the duo's 2003 album Give Up. It's the Mac and Me to their E.T., the Dr Thunder to their Dr. Pepper. One could spend hours quoting maddeningly inane, Gibbard-aping lyrics Young has fashioned, but for now let's settle for: If you're the bird, whenever we pretend it's summer, then I'm the worm/ I know the part, it's such a bummer but fair is fair/ If my segments get separated, I'll scream and you'll be there.
In Young's defense, he's not the first musical act to gain popularity by riding another's coattails. In fact, many rip-offs have even eventually, um, wormed their ways into the public's heart. Here are the best of them. Perhaps, like these groups, Owl City too will one day not make us want to reside in a cave in Tajikistan.
Whitesnake: Many have aped Led Zeppelin, but only Whitesnake have caused us to squint and speculate that, just for a moment, perhaps it was Robert Plant and Jimmy Page wearing feathered wigs and cavorting with Tawny Kitaen.
Stone Temple Pilots: STP pulled off a two-fer by ripping off Pearl Jam, who were already in the process of ripping off Nirvana.
Aerosmith: Understandably convinced that their legacy will never outstrip that of their beloved Rolling Stones, they currently seek to best them in terms of rehab stints. Burn!
Foreigner: You are secretly Journey. We don't care that you got popular first. Like everyone else in the world, you wanted badly to be Steve Perry, and we are not going to stop believing.
Owl City performs with the Scene Aesthetic and Brooke Waggoner at the House of Blues, Anaheim this Thursday, October 22. $12-$15.