OH WONDER Ultralife
Island Records For a band who recorded their first album piecemeal, releasing songs in monthly instalments before eventually compiling it for release as a 15-track record, Oh Wonder have mastered the format on their second outing. Not only does Ultralife flow beautifully from the chiming opening note to the subdued final syncopated synth riff, but the London duo have a firm grasp on what works on a pop album.
As musically diverse as Ultralife may be, the notion of it as a concept that embraces a joie de vivre and devised by Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West plays an important part in tying these songs together. The title track is as uplifting a tune as you’ll hear all summer, an explosion of summery, danceable electropop with permissibly sappy lovesick lyrics such as “Young, forever in the sun ever since you came along’; High On Humans is a song about connecting with strangers and a tailor-made soundtrack for throwing your arms around new friends at summer festivals. All About You is a libidinous 1980s throwback of a soul song, Lifetimes’ gentle keyboardled stomp is irresistible, while Heavy is a sultry, sexy dance number.
These are big songs with plenty of heart and often clever wordplay, as the pair’s dual vocals on Solo –a song that sounds like The xx without the malaise – proves, while the featherlight Heart Strings manages to shoehorn the word “tessellating’” in without sounding clumsy or pretentious. At many points, Oh Wonder sound like the band that The Ting Tings might have been if they hadn’t lost their way after their sparkling gem of a pop debut.
True, the uptempo pace drops off as the album comes to a pared-back conclusion on the sombre Waste, but Ultralife encapsulates the tenets of what is missing from so much modern pop: unabashed emotion and songs that command you to dance. ohwondermusic.com