The eponymous debut of Oh Wonder came about in September 2014, when the songwriting team of Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht embarked on a goal to record and release a song per month for a year, culminating in a full-length album. What the duo didn't foresee was accumulating millions of digital streams of their songs in the meantime, leading to a record deal with Republic Records and sold-out future tour dates before the album was completed or they'd ever set foot on a stage. The resultant 15-track LP (including two previously unreleased tracks, "Without You" and "Plans") is a unified-sounding, thoroughly mellow, wistful collection of bedroom keyboard-and-drum-machine tunes defined most prominently by West and Vander Gucht's unison vocal delivery of each song. With a slow-grooving, R&B-infused style that's technically electronic, effectively it's more a descendant of the Everything But the Girl and Sade realm of English sophisti-pop with touches of contemporary glitch. "Shark," for example, has mechanical buzzing and echoing wind effects dotting its otherwise chill tone. "All We Do" is a simple, ultra-sparse piano piece until quietly irregular drums join in, just briefly, two-thirds through. The song gathers nearly all of its momentum from rhythmic vocals and rhymes, yet it's one of the more memorable songs on the record. The first song to be released in the project, "Body Gold," has the pair singing "Let it go, paint my body gold/Take our bodies higher and higher and higher" over gently sustained keyboard chords and hyper-erratic but spacious hi-hat, tom, and other tempered percussion voices. Like much of Oh Wonder, it's sensual and restrained but manages not to stagnate, an issue for a fraction of the songs. In this case, additional vocal tracks, sharp keyboard tones, and fuller percussion late in the song punctuate the ambling melody. The intimacy of these home recordings compounds the breathy nature of their romantic and weary, persistently longing songs, and may even be a secret weapon of sorts. Given the attention the duo received leading up to the album's arrival, it'll be interesting to see what the band does with access to outside producers and recording studios on any pursuant releases -- if they decide to make any such changes, having seemingly hit upon a solid, distinctive formula out of the gate.
(Digital Download - Oh Wonder #)
Review by Marcy Donelson