Timing is everything. On one hand the debut self-title release from the latest addition to London’s quiet-core scene (The XX, London Grammar, Arctic Lake) could not be timed better. The Syrian refugee crisis is sparking empathy amongst Europe’s elite, whilst Oh Wonder – Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht – could persuade more recruits of this emotion because they are establishing themselves as compassionate idols for the Radio 1 generation – through their their flower power lyrics and heart-warming acts such as visiting a sick fan. The concepts on their first album feel revolutionary and topical as well as benevolent, acting like a motivational mix-tape for left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“All We Do” criticizes the bubble-wrapped and cautious lifestyle of Londoners, asking for the city’s civilians to become adventurous, unpredictable and more flash mob like, “Lose It” radiates the notion of living in the moment, whilst “Dazzle” educates that money can’t buy happiness and is inspired by a documentary about gambling addiction. Furthermore, “White Blood Cells” cleverly uses a scientific metaphor to wish for the immunity of fear via supportive communities and “Heart Hope” praises the ambitious people who have their heads in the clouds.
Yet strong concepts such as social change and freedom mentality are lost amongst the flood of predictable songs about lovelorn and trapped relationships, that even their crafty song-writing can’t save. They are meaningful and have built their fanbase upon them but lack a significant or eye-opening quality. This similar theme makes it hard to justify the large quantity of tracks (15) but will be worth while if the domination of that universal subject matter hooks young people of both genders in a long term strategy, with their second album hitting the political notes more consistently.
On the other hand, timing could have resulted in this mishap. From September, 2014 until August, 2015, Anthony and Josephine decided to embark on the mission of writing, self-producing and independently unleashing at least one song every calendar month via their SoundCloud acccount. The main benefits for this methodology were to keep the songs fresh and exciting – they had never performed live together under last August – and to avoid unfamiliar album-fillers. However, this has resulted in songs that sound underdeveloped, impatient without a chance to stew and an album that’s missed the opportunity of being really powerful or as they put it an interview with Earmilk, “a handbook about how to be a human being”.
It might be a little pedantic to point out the irony of a band that complain about the monotonousness of life and then bring out an album of mostly identical tracks – synchronized singing with a standard verse-chorus setup and an subtle electronic coating – because the humble duo are still in their prime. Their consistent style is also very likable and lush on the ears. Notably, with a deeper concentration; you can hear little touches of smart spontaneity including the saxophone from Josephine’s brother on “Lose It”, the< mellotron on "The Rain” and the fluttering violins on “Drive” – a song that actually references Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be”.
The less is more James Blake approach to Anthony’s production backbone is also admirable with chunky programmed beats, stop-start electric bass and the kind of futuristic inventiveness we expect from Little Dragon. It’s importantly far more interesting than Josephine’s dry and underwhelming piano chords and its indecisive layering, which haven’t reached their exploratory potential. Most audiences won’t be in awe of their wonder just yet but hopefully with the release gimmick out the way and with more time for them to perfect their second album, they’ll have an album with durability as oppose to momentary impact.
Purchase Oh Wonder’s self-titled debut album Oh Wonder on iTunes here.
Words by Matt Hobbs