London based duo Oh Wonder released their self-titled debut album on September 4th. And in short: it is exquisite. From the stripped down tonal approach to the sound production, the lush allure of Josephine Vander Gucht’s voice, and the hazy dream-pop feel that accompanies most of its content. It’s the type of music you listen to as you hold someone and dance lazily as the night wanes into day. Oh Wonder adopts the mien of someone very idealistically and unequivocally in love – rhythmic poetry in motion whilst ruminating on the failures of romance. An apt example would be in the song Dazzle: “Golden grill of sadness / smell like wasting youth / Always end up like this / Always gonna lose,” they talk about love as if it were a casino game – a deceit of youth, and it’s willful inability to accept the shortcomings of the fantasy that is love. It is this reality that the album tries to strike a chord with; idealism and reality – the duality of romance. And it does so quite successfully.
That is not to say that it is not bogged down by a strict adherence to this idea. The songs tend to stay rigidly formulaic within the domain of this duality, foregoing the exploration of facets that also accompany the tumultuous modern day relationship. Ironically: they try to create something highly eclectic while producing their music, and yet it is the same formulaic quasi-eclecticism that prohibits them from achieving something truly exceptional. The duo (Josephine and Anthony) have the formula for a luscious synth-pop album locked down, but they do not vary it. They derive too much of their music from their own music. The only variance we get is the change of the duality, from something ethereal to something discarded in the gutter. The discord between the way the band feels: they are either wholly in love or and an engaging in idealistic drudgery about love (in songs like Livewire, Shark, or Body Gold), or cynical iconoclasts swimming against the fervent tide of idealism that they created.
I do applaud them on the inventive method they used to release the album (and it may also act as a justification for the jagged flux of the songs), as they released a song every month for the preceding year as a build-up to this album. Out of the fifteen songs in this album, thirteen of them had been released over the preceding year. This could be the pivotal reason the album does not meld together into a beautiful flow.
In summation, Oh Wonder’s debut is an apt musical description of love: marred with melancholia and lifted with glee. It is an eclectic work of art, although at times it tends to borrow heavily from itself and remain rigidly formulaic. But in the end, its peaks exalt this album, and this is enough to overcome the nadirs. I would highly recommend giving this album a listen. Rejoice in the idealism, and wallow in the cynicism.