Oh Wonder is an alt-pop songwriting duo based in London: their style is a catalogue of perfect harmonies and tracks with slow R&B undertones all tied up with a do-it-yourself energy and just a hint of twee. Beginning in September 2014, the duo released a song-a-month for a year – which eventually culminated in releasing the collection as their DIY self-titled debut album in 2015. Nearly two years later, the band have released their self-produced second album – full of synths, and full of life – ‘Ultralife’.
Oh Wonder’s sophomore album ‘Ultralife’ stands solidly as a cohesive, harmonious, and utterly DIY/low-key collection of songs perfect for you ‘revision’ and ‘easy listening’ playlists. After already treating us to five of its twelve tracks: it is clear that Oh Wonder’s ‘Ultralife’ carries the same lively, yet gentle, tone as its title track and the band’s other releases. Although the album is generally soft and dreamy, its ambiance is that of life and experience.
All twelve tracks serve an essential purpose on the album: heard in order, there’s a strong start to the LP with ‘Solo’ – a song that admittedly can sound like a mix between early The xx and Of Monsters and Men. ‘Solo’ is followed by a spree of already-released tracks ‘Ultralife’, ‘Lifetimes’, and ‘High on Humans’ that pick up the tempo and liveliness of the album – very much reflecting its title. There’s a good mix of songs to represent the capabilities and style of songwriting duo Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht – and even the lullaby-esque ‘Slip Away’ doesn’t only exist to be a forgettable filler track, but resonates as a meaningful and intimate song (that only sounds slightly like Snow Patrol’s ‘You Could Be Happy’).
Each track brings something a little different: ‘All About You’ delights in its gentle ballad form antithetic of its scathing lyrics such as ‘you’re so full of it / and we’re so sick of it’. Soft harmonies juxtapose effectively with a rush of quick and sharp lyrical delivery in the bridge, immediately re-engaging your attention. ‘High on Humans’ highlights the songwriting duo’s harmonies by contrasting them with a robotic vocal sample. The last track, ‘Waste’, is a consuming finale despite its sparseness: it is atmospheric and tactile – the ideal culmination of ‘Ultralife’ – finishing with the isolated vocals of the duo.
‘Ultralife’ is more unexpected and exciting than Oh Wonder’s self-titled debut: the tracks are catchier (I challenge anyone to not get the ‘doin it right, doin it right’ refrain from ‘Lifetimes’ stuck in their head), and there’s something extra and less twee to every track.
You can catch Oh Wonder this autumn on the UK-leg of their world tour:
October 31 – Manchester, Manchester Academy
November 2 – Glasgow, QMJ
November 4 – Birmingham, O2 Institute
November 5 – Norwich, UEA
November 7 – Bristol, O2 Academy
November 8 – London, O2 Brixton Academy