When I first listened to Oh Wonder, the eponymous debut album from London based indie-pop duo Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, I admit I was delighted by what I heard. I found their light yet melancholy sound to be effortlessly enjoyable with each track being a pocket sized pick-me-up; an audible tic-tac. My joy was suspended by the fact that I knew none of my friends had heard of them and that I was set to collect the precious coolness points as their discoverer.
Unfortunately, the dream was not to be. I was playing my favourite track of the album ‘Without You’ aloud when my brother entered the room and asked me, “are you listening to Ellie Goulding?” I am not one to dislike music because of an artist’s popularity alone and Gucht’s voice does indeed sound like Goulding’s, but my indie treasure had been reduced to the back catalogue of conventional pop. I am thankful for his insight however because it did put Oh Wonder into focus for me. His comment served as a cold awakening from the dopey trance the duo had charmed me into.
Let me explain what I found when I came to. Their sound may be defined as ‘indie pop’ but I reckon that is mostly down to their relative obscurity from the main pack of mainstream hit machines. In reality many of their songs such as ‘Livewire’ and ‘Drive’ are infinitely fluffy and radio safe soft pop tracks. The duo are both big fans of James Blake, but unlike him, Oh Wonder’s more sombre efforts lack any kind of poetic sincerity or edge. You may be noticing from the names of the tracks themselves the kind of generic element I am trying to highlight here with titles including ‘Lose It’ and ‘Landslide’. I am not asking for them to release a bonus track called ‘Free Palestine’ or whatever, but what they have opted for represents the duo’s noticeable lack of statement or ambition. They characteristically refrain from using vocals adventurously and, upon inspection, every single line from every single track is tackled by the duo in exact unity. They certainly both have approachable voices which leaves you wondering what their potential (or lack thereof) might be were they to mix it up.
Despite these offences, Oh Wonder do clearly know how to produce catchy, accessible music, something that I believe does not get enough credit in the more snobbish circles of music critique. Their efforts are not totally devoid of originality either with West flexing his production muscles particularly well in the track ‘Dazzle’ which bounces and crackles into life near the album’s end.
Although they aren’t offering anything pioneering, I can’t help but really enjoy the majority of the album, maybe because the majority of the album sounds the same, maybe not, maybe nobody cares – the point is I enjoy it, and I think you will too. If you offer them a listen I still reckon the inoffensive and agreeable sound combined with the slight obscurity of the duo will help you secure that ever elusive rep as your friendship group’s musical aficionado. However if one of them snidely questions why you have put on an obscure Ellie Goulding track, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Matt McKeeBy Matt McKee