Oh Wonder is a group that I have only recently found out about, but what I have heard is enough to prove that Oh Wonder makes different music. You can tell that they have made a concerted effort to combine various different influences into a pop inspired hodgepodge of new and old. There are harmonies similar to Of Monsters And Men, while at the same time distorted background vocals reminiscent of M83. The only way I could describe their sound is how I perceive Andy Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” art installation (see picture below). “Silver Clouds” is an installation that consists of reflective grey balloons floating around a room, which gives one a sense of lightness and whimsicalness.
I think it is this quality that initially drew me into their music, but it wasn’t the only reason that I kept re-listening to some of their songs over and over again. I found myself trying to figure out how they create such a light atmosphere, while at the same time staying grounded with an interesting perspective of life not usually seen in pop music. The melodies and lyrics have a healthy dose of modern realism in them, which I feel is one reason why they are able to balance the lightness of their music with meloncholy in a way that is specially unique to Oh Wonder.
After my first listen of the album, there were a couple of things that stood out to me. The combination of retro-inspired synths, modern indie drums, and piano/string arrangements were a refreshing take on the typical formula used in pop music, not to take away from pop in general, which has its occasional standout performances. I would consider Oh Wonder to be more in the category of alt-pop, an interesting take on pop mixed with indie, which was pioneered by the likes of Sia, Björk, and Lana Del Rey; good company to be in. The vocals from band members Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West present themselves in a way that is complimentary to the dynamics of the instrumentation, while at the same time not taking away from it. Oh Wonder gives off a very positive energy, which is very infectious, especially after listening to the whole album.
The influence of the modern folk movement, led by Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Of Monsters and Men, and The Lumineers is obvious in the vocal melodies and stacked octave vocals. Another thing I noticed was the influence of the peaceful atmospheres created by modern church bands such as Hillsong United and Bethel Music. I enjoyed a number of songs on the album, including “My Friends”, “High On Humans”, and “Lifetimes”, which stood out to me as being cool songs in general. Honestly, the whole album was very well put together, and it is obvious that Oh Wonder is in it to win it, as they say. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oh Wonder gets nominated for “Best New Artist”, “Best Pop Vocal Album”, or “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” in the next Grammy Awards. Ultralife is a solid album and it will definitely be put in rotation, along with HAIM’s new album, Something To Tell You, which you can find my review of here. I would highly recommend this album to anyone that likes any type of pop, alternative, indie, or adult contemporary music.