With the title track of Oh Wonder’s second album being a euphoric song with pounding drums and soothing harmonies, one would have assumed that Ultralife would have more of this heavy alternative sound, with quieter songs for balance. Follow-up singles such as Heavy and High on Humans also hinted at a similar path, yet the majority of the record sees Vander Gucht and West take on a softer tone. Despite this, there is one track with this particular style that stands out: Lifetimes.
At the heart of the track is the harmonies. Much like the male-female vocal contrast in Ultralife, we hear delicate high notes in Lifetimes – the repetitive line ‘doing it right’ adding to the distinctive chorus. It also adopts the slow build-up of the aforementioned single. Yet whilst there are structural similarities, there are some differences which show the duo are exploring new avenues in the wider album – take Anthony’s fast-paced, rhythmic vocals under a complex drum rhythm in the pre-chorus, for instance.
Whilst there’s no denying that Oh Wonder have a traditional sound which underlies every song (a sound which, one would argue, is somewhat similar to Of Monsters and Men), there’s a sense that Ultralife – the album, that is – is a ‘pick-and-mix’ record.
With Anthony and Josephine following the pattern of their last album and releasing Ultralife on a song-by-song basis, there’s a sense that listeners are invited to choose tracks which take their fancy. Whether it be electronic vibes apparent in Solo, Heavy and High on Humans, or a more mellow sound heard in My Friends and Waste, there’s a fun element of choice for fans of this London-based duo.