So thanks to Limmy I’m apprehensive to call anything ‘the sound of the summer’ but this really is it, it’s the real deal. Having been teased with varying songs for months now by Oh Wonder I’ve been positively chomping at the bit to get my hands on Ultralife and boy was I right to be so excited. Their debut album, Oh Wonder was simply pretty, it sounded pretty, it felt pretty and it was just wholesomely good. Ultralife however, is bigger and heavier and poppier than ever.
Opener ‘Solo’ is a bold start, starting with a police siren and going into a more sullen narrative than is seen in eponymous track ‘Ultralife’ or any of the previous album. ‘Ultralife’ is wonderfully upbeat. It’s the same kind of thing that you’d think of when picturing Oh Wonder’s song but bigger. There’s a clear different level of production here, the opening piano so crisp you want to reach out and play it yourself. It builds into a sickly sweet summer anthem about finding something you love. The lyrics can reference a partner but also about self-love as the video more clearly alludes, regardless it’s larger than life visuals are incredible.
Then comes ‘Lifetimes’ which is a bit bloody nice. It’s a dreamy little number with the vocal melodies you’d expect but Anthony West gets more a chance to shine and without bandmate Josephine Vander Gucht, he sounds a little sultry. The guitar over the second verse makes for a slinkier mood over the song, once again weaving a sultry undertone through ‘Lifetimes’.
‘Heavy’ is my favourite from the album, everything about it just makes my heart sing and I have no idea why. It feels more like their first album than the other singles from Ultralife and that can be put down to the moree subtle production values and focus on the vocal melodies. The vocals are incredible here, they’re emotive and more importantly they’re genuine, the bounce between sultry and boppy is natural. Once you’re done bathing in the afterglow of ‘Heavy’, Oh Wonder take us swiftly between ‘Bigger Than Love’ and ‘Heart Strings’. ‘Bigger Than Love’ is a big piano number, Anthony’s darker vocals adding real depth to the songs whilst Josephine’s lighter voice brings a contrast that lifts the song from being an all-out ballad.
There’s an air of Belle and Sebastian and even a bit of Radiohead’s Amnesiac in the stripped back ‘Slip Away’. The instrumental cleverly mimicks the lyrical content about getting stuck in the groove, never quite soaring like you’d expect from Oh Wonder. ‘Overgrown’ takes another twist, following cues from Passenger but avoiding the folksy cliche a lot of 2017’s biggest albums have fallen victim to.
This album feels a lot more cohesive than the first, most likely down to the fact that their first began life as a project to release a song a month for a year, with no clear plans of the songs linking to form their debut album. Final song ‘Waste’ is a grower, it opens on tiny, fragile vocals and it builds and builds whilst still remaining a lot more stripped back in terms of instrumentation and production than other tracks on the album. It finally cuts out to just the two’s vocals of ‘what a waste to be so alone’. Overall I think it sums up the album nicely, being about surrounding yourself with love, life and happiness.