Livin' the Ultralife
Oh Wonder - U.K's Hidden Gem
I wonder if you've heard of them. You most probably haven't. The alt/synth/indie pop duo are after all, U.K's best kept secret.
A London-based alt-pop duo consisting of Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, Oh Wonder started their journey in September 2014 on the music-sharing website SoundCloud, describing themselves as a 'writing duo, one song a month'. The next year, they released their debut album, which was self titled. The duo released their first two songs under the name "Wonder Wonder", but later changed it to "Oh Wonder" when they learned of another band with a similar name. What started with the relatively modest ambition of uploading a track month for a year, quickly transformed the lives of Josephine and Anthony. They released three more albums after that - Ultralife (2017), NOECWYC (2019) and Home Tapes (2020). The rest as they say, is history.
But, I'm not going to talk about their musical journey that can be found on any website after a quick Google search. This article is about my journey with them, their influence on my music tastes, and the path to discovering myself through their soulful and thought provoking songs. Consider this a guide to their music, since for most of you, this is a brand new duo to check out!
I was in my second year of college, amidst a hectic semester that had me drowning in academics and general stress. I did not need an escape of any sort. I wanted to be assured that everything was going to be fine. That assurance came in the form of Oh Wonder. A friend of mine sent me a song randomly and asked me to listen to it immediately. That was my introduction to Oh Wonder. The song was Technicolour Beat, and you can bet that I spent the whole night listening to that song on repeat. Safe to say that I fell in love with the duo and their soothing voices. A unique quality of the duo that distinguishes them from their counterparts is their tonal quality. Both of them sing an octave apart, because of which the dominant voice is of Josephine, and an echoing, lasting voice is of Anthony. Since Josie is a phenomenal piano player, the melodies in the songs are always pleasing to the ears. Anthony's guitar skills just adds on to the beautiful compositions. I realised after listening to their first album, that they were two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle - perfectly fitting always.
As I met my share of hurdles that year, be it in love or life, Oh Wonder was a constant that I didn't want to change. I won't be able to pick a favourite from the self titled album. It's my bias! But if I were to pick a song that makes me go back to that time, it has to be Lose It and Landslide. Both a beacon of hope, assurance and positivity.
(Yes, Landslide was stolen from the duo by Lil Uzi without due credits at first. We don't stan him.)
A still from the music video of Without You
Fast forward to my final year of under grad. A rollercoaster of overwhelming emotions, all at once. Drowning in assignments, exams and the constant worry of 'what next?', I wished for an escape. Here, I didn't need reassurance. I wanted an escape for some time. That wish was granted when OW released their second album, Ultralife. Most of the songs in their second album were peppier and upbeat. This was a drastic difference from their previous album, with colourful and cheery music videos, and of course, the uplifting songs. The title track, which is the second song in the album, is my favourite from this! In less than three seconds this track has you hooked. The drum sample is genius and the chorus is incredibly catchy. It also has a bit of Tabla that you can hear very faintly! (I got to know about the Abbey Road version of Ultralife quite late, but that song is a lot of fans' dream wedding song!)
The other song that really caught my attention was Lifetimes. Unlike every other song of OW, in this one, both of them made the uncharacteristic decision to split up, leaving Anthony to sing solo in pre-chorus, which just added to the beauty of the song. High on Humans was another favourite of mine because of its quirky-ness (if that's even a word). Have to admit, the music videos of all the songs in this album were so charged and full of energy, that you couldn't not be forced to sway along! You can check out Heavy, Overgrown and others! They really made my year with that album, because the songs compensated for all the madness I had to experience then.
a still from the music video of Ultralife
This was a painful year of my life. I was going through a tough phase and avoided listening to happy songs, just to embrace my feelings fully. Naturally, I resorted to OW, but I needed new songs. I was tired of listening to the same songs that had memories attached to them. Memories that I didn't want to relive. Like a wizard that OW is, they soon dropped their first single Hallelujah from their third album named No One Else Can Wear Your Crown (NOECWYC). That song was a bop! I slowly started to come out of my shell and did what the song told me to do. I wore my crown and held my head up high. The process was slow and tedious, but this album really saved me from disappearing into the dark abyss. Soon after, they released another single called Better Now, which according to me, should be the official song for making someone's day. Like always, the lyrics of this song were uplifting enough to make you feel better than before. The vocals just added to the beauty and calmness. I remember forwarding the link of this song to my friends who were somewhat in the same boat. The full album though was released in February 2020, before we were crippled by the worldwide pandemic.
I still remember their mad promotions for this album. For a post breakup song called Happy, they made announcements of splitting up and parting their ways. Even though I knew that it was a marketing gimmick, the pain was more than an actual breakup I myself might have experienced. Not just me, the whole fandom went berserk!
Although the album's songs are mostly a mix of emotions a person in love might go through, my favourite from the album is Dust. A song about uplifting oneself and others around you. A beautiful reminder that no one else can wear your crown, it's yours, just yours. Reflecting the truth that we are all made up of the same universal dust as any creature on the earth, hence questioning the differences we have created over time. Whenever I feel low, demotivated or unworthy, I listen to this song on repeat. Other favourites from this album are Drunk on You and In & Out of Love! The former will make you blush with fond memories, the latter will make you cry tears of longing.
the duo with their third album, NOECWYC
2020 (post pandemic)
The world came to a standstill when the pandemic spread like wildfire. Just like any other industry, the music industry took a hit too. Shows and concerts were cancelled, recording studios were shut, and artists were forced to go live on social media for free or meager costs. To overcome this difficult phase, OW did a 37 day livestream on Instagram, which helped all the fans around the world connect with them, and also each other. (#OWFamily)
During lockdown, the duo came up with a set of songs at home, and named the mini album, Home Tapes. It had 5 songs, recorded and produced over the period of 6 months. For their music videos, they crowd-sourced videos from their fans across the world! Each song was special in its own way, and was made to look even more beautiful through its videos. Fans poured in entries in huge numbers. Some succeeded, some didn't (like me), but nevertheless, the videos that came out have got to be their best productions so far!
Their first song from this album, Lonely Star, was about the isolation period during lockdown, where social distancing led to emotional distancing as well. This song was an assurance that you weren't alone. We all were lonely stars in the same sky. Their other song, Keep On Dancing, was an ode to those people who celebrated their birthdays in lockdown. It urged you to keep on having fun despite the tough times! It released after Josephine's birthday, where she got the inspiration from. Other songs - I like it when you love me, Oceansize & Don't you Worry - were all a breath of fresh air as they released every month. Oh Wonder, if you are reading this article, just a tiny message - you really made our lockdown bearable!
Time to end this article. I can go on and on about OW, their cute little dog Margot, their solo albums, their quirky Instagram stories and posts, their brand new cafe, etc. But I won't. I would, however, urge you to check them out! I hope this article was convincing enough to make you go listen to them and be a part of their lives (yes, they are that open and friendly!). If it wasn't, well, I'll go listen to them and cry about not having enough friends with whom I can share my love for them.
I really hope they'll come to India on their tour when the pandemic has ceased to exist. Till that dream of mine comes true, I guess I'll just keep livin' the Ultralife!