Oh Wonder Tap Into the Light and Dark Sides of Love on ‘Ultralife’
In a pop music world run by computer synths, drum pads and glass shattering vocals, London-based Oh Wonder have carved out a niche rife with live instrumentation and subtlety – and listeners are responding. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West make up this mere three-year-old musical duo who in that short span of time have gone from Soundcloud stars to international touring artists. The two are already marking the release of their sophomore album “Ultralife,” giving fans enough time to meticulously memorize each whimsical lyric ahead of their upcoming U.S. tour.
Since 2015’s self-titled debut, Oh Wonder have further solidified their melodic, oozing-with-romanticism sound. They’re no longer the underdogs, but now find themselves singing to fans with expectations. Luckily for said fans, “Ultralife” delivers a more well-produced, well-rounded sound than they could have ever hoped for.
The title for the album comes from the lead single. “Ultralife” explores the unexpected feeling one gets from infatuation. Or as Vander Gucht says, “it’s about finding someone or something that makes you feel ultra, that makes your life extraordinary in some small or massive way”. The two sing simultaneously, as they nearly always do, throughout this poetic head-bobbing tune. Twinkling piano and a bustling hook make this song a perfect match for your local indie station. A second single (“Lifetimes”) was also released ahead of the album. The two veer away from the romantics of human existence and focus here on a sheer plea for survival. Sonically reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids,” “Lifetimes” tackles the issue of climate change, or as the band’s Tweet reads: “It’s about climate change. Don’t be no climaphone yo.” Again, the chorus here is breathtaking and uplifting and any other positive adjective a thesaurus can muster. West shines bright on this particular track with a pitter-patter, pseudo-rap verse, making it even more Frank Ocean-esque. This is West’s first solo on an Oh Wonder song.
“Heavy” was mentioned in another Tweet from the band claiming it to be one of their favorite songs on the record. As a hazy, low-light dance tune rich in synths and featuring a lounge-style piano solo, “Heavy” pulls you in one beat at a time. Whereas most tunes on the album focus on romanticism, sex is the clear theme here. “Super volcano flow,” “Feel my body breaking” and “We can get heavy on it all night” make this notion clear. This would be the part of their live show where the lights turn purple and couples in the audience moves a little closer together. This tune stands alone amongst an album full of gushy feelings and starry-eyed sentiment. The piano bounce on “Heart Strings,” the glowing synths on “Overgrown,” the sonically uplifting “Bigger Than Love” all lend to the overarching emoting that Oh Wonder does so well.
Towards the end of the album finds “My Friends,” the duo’s way of coping with temporary love lost. “And oh my friends, I am heavy” they croon, “Can I beat within your heart? Can I bleed within your love?” As the band prepares to head off on a massive tour, this feeling will no doubt weigh heavy on them. Perhaps providing even more to pull from for album number three.
“Ultralife” is available on Apple Music July 14.