Album Review: Oh Wonder: Ultralife

“Music like this is exactly why I love discovering new artists.”

Background to Oh Wonder:
Setting out on their musical journey in 2015, Anthony and Josephine (Oh Wonder) began releasing tracks via SoundCloud. After a few months, these tracks transformed into a self-titled debut album which saw them making more of a name for themselves. Jump forward two years and they are back with their second album ‘Ultralife’ which, judging by the pre-released tracks, promises to be something really special. Read on to find out why you should be discovering Oh Wonder now.

Pre-release tracks:
The first of the pre-released tracks is track 2 ‘Ultralife’. Right from the opening there is a relaxed, yet joyful atmosphere exuding from the highly catchy, high-pitched instrumental hooks. In some ways, the whole track could be an extended chorus as each part of it is as equally catchy as the next. Add to this the vocal melodies and you have a track which is, well, full of life. While the track itself doesn’t offer too much variety in the main, there are, particularly in the latter half of the track, clever changes of texture which take us away from the relentless, heartbeat like drumming. As a whole, the track gives us a real insight into what Oh Wonder’s music is all about.

Moving onto Track 3, ‘Lifetimes,’ it is safe to say there is quite a contrast. There is greater variation within the track and unlike the previous one, there is more sense of structure and the developing textures throughout give it a musical depth not felt in ‘Ultralife.’ It’s opening, which edges toward a fusion of soul and laid back hip hop – through its use of low brass sounds – is at first misleading as the setting of a verse, with a repetitive yet highly effective piano chord sequence removes most of these elements. However, when you reach the chorus, you realise that the intro was a musical tease of what was to come. There really are some truly brilliant moments  – such as the slightly distorted guitar interlude – and while there are definite fusions going on, they work together like they are one. Music like this is exactly why I love discovering new artists.

Immediately following this, we have Track 4 ‘High on Humans’ which immediately takes us on a more technology based musical journey with its distinctly robotic opening. There are no excuses made for this and there shouldn’t be as the relentless accompaniment, which at times sounds as though it is a sample of a machine, works fantastically alongside vocoder style effects. In the context of the tracks that precede it, it works perfectly as ending to this section of the album and for that matter, as a standalone track as well.

In an effort to not give too much away at once, the continuity is broken and we skip to track 6 ‘Heavy.’ In some ways this title seems ironic, as it is far from a heavy sound. In fact the constant beat, the gorgeous harmonic progressions and the low synth brass parts give it a very laid back feel. For me though the real wake up moment is just after the chorus where, in another irony induced musical turn, the texture drops, giving us an opportunity to hear multi-tracked vocal harmonies for they are. Superb! Then, in yet another unexpected moment, we get a jazz inspired piano link section. For me, these moments are the highlights of the track and it is disappointing that they only come back at the end. Maybe ideas like these will feature elsewhere in the album, but for now we are left to wonder.

For the final of the five pre-released tracks, we jump to the penultimate track of the album, ‘My Friends.’ This track, unlike the others is more emotionally charged and a world away from the other four tracks. I am yet to pin point why it makes me feel this way, but there is just something about it. Is it because it is so different to the others? Is it because of haunting vocals? Is it because of the piano and string based accompaniment? Maybe it’s the combination of all three, but whatever it is, it’s gorgeous, it’s touching and it’s of course, wonderful.

Ultralife is set to be released this Friday (14th July), but the tracks reviewed can be downloaded from iTunes now.

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