WPGM Recommends: Oh Wonder – Ultralife (Album Review)

oh wonder ultralife
British duo Oh Wonder come forth more polished but still the same with their second album Ultralife. Compared to their debut self-titled album, released in 2015, this second record shows Oh Wonder still retains their soft lyrics and harmonies, but adds a little more pop and upbeats tracks. The album was released the 14th of July, and the band has already announced they’ll be touring Ultralife in 2017, around 31 countries.

Oh Wonder’s lady and gentleman duo both started out their music careers separately, Josephine Vander Gucht as a solo act and Anthony West in 3 different bands. They came together in 2014 for the project Oh Wonder, starting September that year.

They released a song a month till their first self titled 15-track album was completed in 2015. The album peaked 26th in the UK album charts and then the 16th in Canada, with fans such as Katy Perry. Oh Wonder made the first album completely out of their home studio in South East London, but for Ultra Life, the band hit up the famous Abbey Road studios.

Oh Wonder are known for their alternative pop sound. Lighter than Banks, similar to The Japanese House, but with Josephine’s high voice, like Kate Miller Heidke or Anne Of The North. Songs range from soft heartbreak songs to alt R&B tracks with synth rhythms.

This second Album Ultralife sees them get a bit smoother, production wise, a bit techno. Seen on songs like “Lifetimes”, “Heavy”, “High On Humans” and the final track; “Waste”. Relying on their synth foundations, “Heavy” has got to be the lead track for the new sound, with its upbeat technicoloured cute pop, a nice build up and even nicer hook, “we can get heavy, I need all night, all night“.

Lifetimes” combines those sounds with simple keyboard that’s reminiscent of “Super Rich Kids” by Frank or even Benny and the Jets, and Anthony’s voice suits the track perfectly, it’s actually my favourite.

Waste“, the closing song, is simple and effective, a relentless electronic bass with lyrics sung quietly repeating “what a waste, what a waste to be alone“, “there’s a space in between like a grey evergreen… I said I would never come back“. The distorted voice tracks in the background are a bit Bon Iver, the song builds and builds then leaves Josephine and Anthony alone whispering what a waste. It’s an effective album ending.

Josephine’s voice is sweet verging on twee, which works for past songs like “Without You” and “Drive”, and on one of this album’s new tracks “High On Humans“, I can’t take her seriously. What is exciting though, is the craftsmanship on the track like the use of sampled robot sounds, seeing Oh Wonder experimenting, and thinking of what they might try in the future.

Other tracks are more like their roots, sweet and melancholy; “Bigger Than Love“, with lyrics like “waste away into the night fall, hands are shaking at the last call, in the silence can you hear me scream“, while “Slip Away” uses even less lyrics, with the chorus a simple “oh ma ma my, oh how I tired“. They’re what we still crave from Oh Wonder, why we’re still listening to “Without You” from 2015.

We don’t always like change from our bands, but Oh Wonder is sweet about it as always. They take your hand and show you what they’ve learnt and how they’re still very much their own distinct sound. They may never make a pop banger, but I don’t need them to. Oh Wonder continues to write ballads with unique production that makes their lyrics hit harder than they would with something acoustic.

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