Album review: Oh Wonder’s ‘Ultralife’ takes listeners on a journey of finding love

Posted on Jul 12 2017 - 11:56am by Jake Thrasher

Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West make up the London pop duo Oh Wonder. The upbeat band originated when the duo made and uploaded one song a month on Soundcloud. The two were not actually planning on forming a band and going on tour, but fan pressure eventually caused them to create Oh Wonder, release their first album, and go on tour.

Ultralife is Oh Wonder’s second album, which was composed, recorded, and produced entirely by Gucht and West. This album was inspired by the couple’s time in New York. The entire album was recorded in a home studio, so the duo had to work around traffic schedule. Ultralife opens with bus and siren noises which Josephine says is “an ode to the fact that the entire album was compromised by London transport.”

The album opens with “Solo,” a song with dreamlike synths and the calming voices of Gucht and West. The song is about desiring some space and finding yourself in a crowded world.

oh wonder

Illustration by: Jake Thrasher

The next track is “Ultralife” the title song. This song is beautiful, upbeat, and will put a huge smile on your face. This song is about finding someone who makes you incredibly happy and makes you live an “ultralife.” The song talks about how before they met, the days passed slowly in a depressive state, but once they met, life seemed beautiful and exciting.

“High On Humans” is one of the more unique tracks on the album. The song opens with computerized voices followed by West and Gucht singing over a very high energy beat. This song celebrates the beauty one finds in the uniqueness of different humans. Human interaction is celebrated in this song, and the music video shows the diversity and quirkiness of humans.

The album features a song called “Heavy” which was released as a single and has a music video. The song is very flirtatious and upbeat and has a beautiful mixture of synthesizers, piano, and percussion. The song is about being someone’s “only one,” and the music video is a stop-motion piece made from photos of a tipsy Josephine and Anthony in a color cube. Watching the music video and listening to this song will make you giddy with all the happiness it embodies.

The album takes a more ethereal turn with “Bigger than Love.” The heartfelt song belts about a relationship in which the couple’s love is bigger than both of the individuals. The lyrics boast about needing each other with lines such as “the edges of you keep me holy.” You’ll want to run out of your house to go hunt down your soulmate, just so you can listen to this song together. This romantic giddiness continues with the song “Overgrown” which again has upbeat loving lyrics. This track has much more pop and techno influences than most of the other tracks on this album. Fading synths frame fluttering voices of Anthony and Josephine in this song building up to the chorus.

The last two songs on the album, “My Friends” and “Waste,” take a sharp turn in mood compared to the rest of the album. The vocals are slower, the beat is very calming, but somber at the same time. “My Friends” is a tear-jerking piano ballad about missing friends and needed their support. The final track, “Waste” features very depressing lyrics about loneliness and about how it’s a “waste to be so alone.” Ending the album on this song is a very weird feeling. You spend the entire album building up happiness thinking about love, romance, and friends to then suddenly end the album on a very depressive note. While this makes you want to go listen to the upbeat songs on the album again to lift up your spirits, I think ending the album with such a sound of melancholy has a deeper meaning. The whole album seems to go through the motions of falling in love, and then that love ending abruptly.

Opening the album with a song called “Solo” supports the theme of falling out of love then getting your heart broken. As the album progressive, you get songs that build emotionally and romantically like “Heavy” and “Bigger Than Love,” then the album closes with sadness. The sadness is beautiful, though, and is appreciated instead of resented. “Ultralife” takes the listener on a journey of falling in love ending in heartbreak, not to make the artist regret falling in love, but to make the listener appreciate all the ups and downs of love and heartbreak.