Oh Wonder’s ‘No One Else Can Wear Your Crown’ Is a Subdued Alt-Pop Serenade
London-based duo Oh Wonder are a shining example of less being more in music, speaking volumes with simplicity. Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht took an unconventional approach, releasing one song each month for a year, culminating in their 2015 self-titled debut. Their 2017 follow-up “Ultralife” was a monumental step, involving world tours, performances with Beck, sessions at Abbey Road, and the works. For their latest album, “No One Else Can Wear Your Crown,” the duo has honed their craft more than ever before, turning out a record that explores different facets of romance with a lighthearted, irresistible aesthetic all their own.
Opener “Dust” begins with minimal, rickety percussion, as West’s and Gucht’s voices blended with Gucht’s the predominant in the mix, and an easy, understated feel that few groups have centered on with such success. The refrain, “We’re all made up of each other / From dust to dust to dust” encapsulates the theme of oneness that runs through the album, as does the seamless, uncontrived manner in which it’s delivered. “Happy” takes a different angle, with the singers marveling about finding happiness in a former lover’s finding a new romantic interest. It’s the type of admittance that ego and jealousy rarely allow for, which makes it a rare expression of genuine affection. The music is fittingly jubilant.
“Better Now” takes the aesthetic teased so far and brings it gradually to deeper, darker ends, all the while somehow keeping the airy, lighthearted feel so integral to the band’s sound. “Hallelujah” is a winsome, giddy song about finally turning down the self doubt of years, emerging newly resplendent, and basking in the glow. Moreover, the backstory involved West and Gucht becoming romantic partners in the song, and the newfound chemistry is audible. “In and Out of Love” is a relative lull, a bit of an afterthought following the gushy thrill of the previous track. The understated feel that’s such a defining quality of Oh Wonder especially shines on tracks like this, in which the tempo seems slowed down slightly too unnaturally, and all the open space speaks volumes.
The way West’s and Gucht’s voice mesh effortlessly over clean piano lines, West’s phantom utterances giving form to Gucht’s honey-soaked vocals, is a pristine match. Saxophone, of the most smooth jazz variety, enters the mix on “How It Goes,” and it seems like it was only a matter of a time, the most overt indulgence of a certain camp haze already implicit in the sound. “Drunk On You” sounds fitting for its title, if one could imagine a song of the name written by only this band – no sweeping, head-over-heels, impassioned, gushing outpourings, but rather a slight, dreamy stir, just enough to make the sensation of butterflies well established.
“Nothing But You” is a pensive number, with Gucht beginning, and West entering the mix, filling out the lower end, giving a vaguely James Blake feel, reimagined in a more department store-friendly universe, yet without the taciness that such accessibility might suggest. “I Wish I Never Met You” is the cheeriest ditty so far, a marked departure from the long-winded, yet easy musings that characterize most of the songs. The instrumental refrain is almost a bit like Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Baby,” if one has a bit of an imagination. And of course, the sappiness is balanced, for good measure with the refrain of “I wish I never met you / But it’s a little too late,” a perfectly succinct articulation of succumbing to love in all its triumphs and tragedies. Finally, “Nebraska” rings as an afterthought and affirmation of the previous thought. If “I Wish I Never Met You” is a dizzy coming-to-terms with the frenzy of infatuation. “Nebraska” is a composed, comfortable, acceptance of fatih. West and Gucht sing of traveling to Nebraska, Rome, deserts, and swamps, only to ultimately resolve, “Can’t get you out my mind ’cause you’re still home.”
Every tune on “No One Else Can Wear Your Crown” is instantly catchy without trying too hard to make an impact. Oh Wonder specialize in an elusive shade of sound, at once dim-lit yet bright. Their voices always sound like two haves of a whole, rather than two individuals forced to sing in unison. This is made all the more meaningful by the fact that the audible romance of every song is backed by a true story. Quite easily the most cohesive, most thoroughly realized release to date, it’s an album for a distinct mood, and altogether a delight.
“No One Else Can Wear Your Crown” is available Feb. 7 on Apple Music.