THE GENTLY CANDID, RESTORATIVE, AND DARE TO BEOPTIMISTIC OH WONDER IS HEADED (WE HOPE) TO KINGS THEATRE BY SUMMER, JUST WHEN WE NEED THEM MOST
BY MATT SCANLON
Eight years ago, in the early days of Oh Wonder, a duo consisting of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, they elected to pin a tontine of sorts to their South London recording studio wall.
“We wrote it to say that we are dependent on one another,” explained Vader Gucht at the time, “that there are things we want to achieve, and that we can help each other get there.”
In material ways, that pact is just as guileless and charming as the duo’s music understated yet grabby synth pop that’s gently candid and restorative, with the two harmonizing in something between speaking tones and whispers. The rollout strategy of their first album, named eponymously, seemed analogously simple, too, but wound up being a harbinger of how most artists offer music these days. Electing to release one track off the disc each month, they were playing to sold out shows in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and their home city one week after Oh Wonder’s official release in September of 2015. The album notable for its wondrous lack of overproduction and not even a hint of Auto Tune went on to be certified gold in the UK, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Denmark, and platinum in both Russia and the Philippines. A 2017 follow up disc, Ultralife, stuck to that same format upbeat, uncluttered, feel good etherealism just when a Brexit plagued UK and a fraught world seemingly needed it most. Likewise recorded in the pair’s private studio, Ultralife was marked by seemingly accidental audio atmospherics the occasional street sounds, for example (including sirens) only adding to an urban listener’s lived experience. That album was also a success, and, post release, Vander Gucht and West, in addition to their associated 38 stop tour, opened for Beck three times on his own road show.
The duo’s third album, No One Else Can Wear Your Crown, was released on February 7, and teased by the late winter track, “Hallelujah.” Mostly true to form but a step up in both pace and punch, it had racked up more than a million listens on Vevo by the time this issue had gone to press. Of the song, the two observed in a Billboard interview by Glenn Rowley that, “We wanted to make a statement both lyrically and sonically. It’s a kind of passionate anthem of self-defiance that we wrote for ourselves to acknowledge our perseverance and determination to make it as musicians. It’s all we both ever wanted, and over the last 15 years we have had many people tell us that our dreams were invalid or too impossible. Hopefully it inspires people to ignore the haters and find the strength to pursue their own dreams.”
The follow up track, “Better Now,” is a finger snapping and gently bobbing tonic, even as its lyrics describe a hospital waiting room vigil the two unapologetically offering a dose of hope nearly enough to cure this writer’s jaundiced perspective. The album’s third teaser, “I Wish I Never Met You,” reads and sings of reconciled acknowledgement of a relationship’s shortcomings, yet a commitment to endure. As if that wasn’t intimidatingly self-actualized enough, “Happy” dares to describe genuinely wishing an ex well with a new love.
Produced and written by Oh Wonder, No One Else Can Wear Your Crown (its cover seen below) is being boosted by a world tour that began in London on its release date and, at least tentatively, was scheduled to visit Kings Theatre in spring or summer.
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