Oh Wonder: A Review of the Sophomore Album ‘Ultralife’

Based out of London, the alt-pop duo of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, known as Oh Wonder, has quickly risen to success after an interesting start in the music world. After releasing one song per month online in 2014, Oh Wonder compiled the DIY songs for their self-titled first album. After reaching #26 on the UK Album Chart and #16 on the Canadian Album Chart, the duo toured internationally and gained a loyal following. Now, released July 14, 2017, Oh Wonder brings us their second album titled Ultralife 

Staying true to their roots, Ultralife was written, composed, recorded, and produced entirely by them and them alone. With meaningful lyrics and heartfelt melodies, Oh Wonder’s second album can be described as personal, raw, and liberating. Gucht and West leave everything on the table for their listeners and leave no emotion untouched. Ultralife takes listeners on a journey through self-discovery and all the heartache that comes with it. It is interesting to note that listening to the album is like an auditory timeline. It begins with song “Solo”, and the titled speaks for itself. As the album continues it is clear there is a shift of emotion, from melancholy to hopefulness. The listener then hears upbeat songs about love and happiness just to be taken down a morose path at the end again with “Waste”. The timeline, while predictable, is comforting and explores what it means to be human. Let’s look at the Oh Wonder human condition bit by bit.

Lyrics and melody: 3.5/5

Oh Wonder’s humble yet vibrant lyrics, while full of potential, sometimes fall short in their simplicity. But who says simplicity is a bad thing? If you find the lyrics too simple, Gucht and West make up for it with complex themes such as isolation, new relationships, lost loves, and lost selves. The same can be said of the melodies within the album. The intricate music compliments the simplicity of the melodies. This perfect blend of simple complexity gives Oh Wonder a score of 3.5/5 for lyrics and melody. Check out the opening track “Solo” and the closing song “Waste” for a lyrical journey. Bonus song: give “My Friends” a listen and try to not catch the feels.  

Instrumentation and production: 4/5

This dynamic duo isn’t in the business of producing pop bangers, and that suits them just fine. While their sound is a bit quirky, Oh Wonder’s Ultralife refuses to derail from their DIY style. The perfect blend of piano and digital sounds over the upbeat tempo of songs such as “High on Humans” and the title song “Ultralife” creates a catchy, yet distinct, sound that will have you dancing around your kitchen at 1:00 in the morning (or is that just me?). The only downfall of the Oh Wonder sound is that sometimes, such as with “Lifetimes”, it sounds as though that the song was created using a sub-par mic in the basement of your parent’s house. However, this is the exception and not the rule. For this reason, Oh Wonder scores a solid 4/5 for instrumentation and production. 

Originality: 3/5

Remember when I said that the Oh Wonder sound was quirky? Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them too unique. While the Ultralife album is different from most of the albums coming out of the Pop genre, there is still a definite familiarity to the sound. The Oh Wonder quirk factor can also be seen in artists such as Of Monsters and Men, Amber Run, and The Head and the Heart. Listen to “Bigger than Love” and “Ultralife” to hear exactly what I mean. This certain quirky sound has been done before. It isn’t original, but it sure does work for this album. Ultralife scores a 3/5 on the uniqueness scale.

Play on repeat: High on Humans and Heavy
Press skip: Lifetimes and Heartstrings
Overall score: 3.5/5