Living the Ultralife
Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West return as Oh Wonder for their second album, Ultralife. The pair formed in 2014 and released their self-titled debut one year later. Their sophomore album stays in the alt-pop lane, careful not to stray away from the sound fans are expecting.
Ultralife opens with the sound of sirens, a mark of the duo’s DIY nature of production. Vander Gucht said in a statement, “We could have made our lives easier by going to a studio with soundproofing, but that isn’t us.” The sirens fade and a drum kit beat is introduced while the pair begin a duet about needing to go “Solo” in a relationship. The title-track is dreamy, with Vander Gucht’s voice leading, as West takes on a supporting role. “Ultralife” is a flurry of keyboard and flicks of East Asian electronic elements for a quick-paced and youthful lead single. “Lifetimes” is a blend of Oh Wonder’s signature whimsical sound and experiments with a bolder electronic production. After the intro, piano keeps the tempo until a more hip-hop-inspired beat is introduced, allowing West to casually rap his verse. The experimentation continues, as listeners hear male and female robotic voices stitched together to say, “I’m getting high on humans.” This upbeat single is powered by the pair’s swift lyrics: “Now I’m locking eyes with a silent stranger / don’t run, don’t hide… / we’re making waves of conversation / got a rush of energy,” indicating the rush of talking to someone they don’t know.
“All About You” takes a step back with a slower, half-hearted cosmic sound, and a message of annoyance toward someone self-centered. “I could be the only, I could be the only one,” sung solely by Vander Gucht, kicks off the album’s fourth single. The pair get hot and “Heavy,” but keep to their poetry: “There’s magic in the way you move / stop the world it’s only you / oh my heart is waking / cause I could be your one and only.” A piano ballad at the start of “Bigger Than Love” builds into a romantic duet about a passion larger than the pair that started it. “Heart Strings” takes retro R&B influences and churns out a modern sound, followed by “Slip Away,” a musing, breathy breakup song. Electronic loops and synths energize “Overgrown,” though the vocal melody resembles a past single (“Lose It”). The duo reach their emotional peak on the piano ballad “My Friends.” A loop in double-time acts as the final track’s anchor, but West and Vander Gucht move slowly through the song, tending to the imminent build as they chant, “What a waste to be so alone.”
Oh Wonder used their first release as a stepping stone and took their production one step further for their second. The pair have yet again delivered a visionary album full of love, heartbreak and living an Ultralife.