Oh Wonder's 'Ultralife' is an Ethereal Adventure
    • MONDAY, JULY 10, 2017

    • Posted by: Larisha Paul

    When they first began posting music on Soundcloud, London alt-pop duo Oh Wonder had not anticipated that they would have ever received such an overwhelmingly positive response to their accidental project. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West intended for their music to catch the eye of other artists who may have wanted to work with the duo in some capacity, but instead it gained the attention of millions of listeners who quickly fell in love with their idiosyncratic sound. Oh Wonder's debut self-titled album was released in 2015 and featured 15 tracks that laid the base of the band's sound and image: melodic and simple. There was no sign of over production, or any evidence that Josephine and Anthony were trying to market their project as anything other than what it is at heart. Thankfully, for their sophomore album, Ultralife, Oh Wonder stuck to their roots.

    The album opens with "Solo," a lead track that begins with the sound of police sirens that show, from the start, the kind of raw sounds that can be expected from Ultralife. Any outside interference in the recording process would otherwise annoy artists trying to get the perfect take without error, but OW remains sincere by giving the sounds of the world a place on their project. While the sirens and bus sounds do add a certain atmosphere to the album, a majority of the 12 tracks fall in line with the band's classic feel-good bubbly sound. It was bold to have the title track of the album serve as its lead single, but it worked so well because it gave their audience a glimpse into the world of Ultralife and made it clear that they were not going to drastically alter their sound to appeal to anyone. When you create something as successful as Oh Wonder by accident, you don't have to answer to anyone other than yourself and your true fans who don't expect anything more or less than what you're giving them. The simple sound of "Heart Strings" and synths throughout "Heavy" embody OW's classic tone-they're lyrically marvelous and serve as the perfect dance tracks for when you're ready to cut loose.

    I am constantly being taken aback by Oh Wonder's songwriting skills, and listening to Ultralife presented surprise after surprise. "Bigger Than Love" proves to be a heart wrenching melody in which a heavy question is presented, "In the silence can you hear me scream?" before the duo delves into a powerful chorus led by the declaration, "We found love on an empty page." OW's masterful songwriting abilities stand out yet again on "Overgrown," a more lively track with a chorus you can't help but want to scream at the top of your lungs. This song features the confessions of a lover, singing, "I'll never get high when you're feeling low / I'm pulling down stars just to make you glow" and then later assuring the recipient that they're in their relationship for the long run. "Overgrown" has an electronic sound that is seen briefly beforehand in "High On Humans," the fifth and most recent single to be released from Ultralife.

    As you work your way through the track list, you will notice that a majority of the songs you're hearing are upbeat and bubbly, as expected from OW for the most part. Their debut album had its fair share of mellow tracks, and this album is no exception. "Slip Away" adds a lullaby-type element to the project as it serves as a storyteller with a jumble of 'Oh my my my's and 'Oh how hard I tried's. "My Friends" and "Waste" are the final two of Ultralife and leave listeners on a heartbreakingly somber note. "My Friends" is a piano melody that isn't afraid to draw a few tears from everyone's eyes in the same way that "Waste" is unapologetically relatable. As the duo sings, "What a waste to be so alone" on top of a track that seems to be building, while simultaneously not going any higher than first presented. The album shows a fluctuation in experiences, from positive and exciting, as in "Lifetimes," to brutally honest and heartbreaking, as in "All About You,"–so it is unfortunate to see it end on a hint of such sadness.

    It's wonderful to see Oh Wonder hold true to their classic sound for the most part, and to see their more experimental tracks prove to be so wonderful. I will say, "Lifetimes" stuck out to me more than anything the duo has done before, and it also made me wish so much that Anthony's vocals were utilized in this way more often. He adds something unexplainable to the sound beyond the fact that he's a male vocalist, and OW could benefit from playing around with his abilities while they're trying out subtle changes within their music. The band is soon to embark on a 55 date world tour to bring their project to life all over, and from there I assume it's back to the bus sound and siren enhanced studio for OW3.

    Also watch our exclusive interview with Oh Wonder:

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