Introductions first. Oh Wonder is a very new group, formed in 2014 by Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West of London. Their style is light alt-pop (alt-light pop?) and their first album (self-titled) was released in 2015, and Ultralife was released on July 14 of this year.
The best songs on this album are those that bring the energy. A brief listen to their first album left me wanting something more lively – something I felt was lacking by choice rather than lack of ability. Ultralife is a step in the right direction, delivering a good four up-beat tracks. “Heavy” and “Heart Strings” are good examples of fun, energetic songs. And “High On Humans” takes it a step further with its staccato vocals and fast-paced beat.
But the title track takes the crown for best in this category. Not only is “Ultralife” musically spirited, the lyrics are joyful and exuberant.
And I got love falling like the rain
I never could’ve asked for more
I got so much soul inside my bones
Take a look at me now
I’m young, forever in the sun
Ever since you came, I’m living ultralife
These are the four songs I’d play for someone, if I was trying to sell them on Oh Wonder.
Pretty much the rest of the album is filled slow-to-medium paced songs, directionless, and with too-soft vocals. As they wander, so does the listener. And despite their talents, the duo rely too heavily on electronic music, making their sound coldly pristine and squeaky clean. A grand piano, acoustic guitar, or violin would add warmth, depth and richness that is often lacking.
…And The Inexplicable.
The second-to-last song on the album is entitled “My Friends” and it fits all the criticisms that I listed in the paragraph above. So naturally it is my favorite song on the album. I realize that I’m risking my credibility as a music reviewer by this apparent contradiction. Despite my inconsistencies, I can tell you why I like this song in two words:
Sometimes a song just gets you, or maybe you just get a song. It is the most intangible characteristic of music, and the most frustrating for those who try to explain it, because it cannot be explained.
In general, my generation prefers a bigger sound with bolder vocals than is offered by Oh Wonder. And Ultralife does offer signs that this duo can deliver a brisk and upbeat song if they so choose. But their bread-and-butter is quiet light pop, and those who prefer a a more subdued sound will find much to their liking. And even those who don’t may still find a surprise or two.
Because, you know…music.
- Being from London, it follows that Oh Wonder is more popular ‘across the pond’ than they are here in the US.
- At the time of this post, Ultralife was a mere two weeks old, and had reached number 8 on the British pop charts.
- Oh Wonder write, mix, produce and perform all their songs. Their modus operandi has been to release a song a month leading up to the release of an album.
Here’s Ultralife on Spotify:
Here’s the video for the song “Ultralife” – see what I mean by joyful and exuberant?