An incredibly powerful and personal record
Philip Girouas
10:17 8th October 2021

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Released with barely a few weeks notice, no one was expecting a new record from Oh Wonder to follow so soon after the release of their third record No One Else Can Wear Your Crown back in February 2020. The coinciding tour for the record fell apart due to the pandemic and the pair headed back to the studio to create 22 Break, a project that almost signified the end of the duo—both professionally and personally. 

It was only during the release of their previous record that Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht of Oh Wonder confirmed they were in a long-term relationship, let alone engaged. With lockdowns grinding everything to halt, the pair that thrive off moving at 100mph had to sit down and reflect on the tensions boiling between them. Interestingly, the album was written before the pair discussed their situation of impending implosion: the result is an unflinchingly honest examination of the pair's true feelings. Its honesty is also what makes this the duo’s most meaningful, profound and relatable work to date. 

Whilst the pair have created a selection of great pop records, it could be argued the secrecy of their unique and complex dynamic of being both romantically involved and working professionally together has lead to a barrier between the art and the listener on their previous works. The breakdown of those walls is signified by the sparse and delicate opener ‘Baby’ that sees Josephine sings of her fears of failure over 1975-style production. These feelings of sorrow and how they reflect the cracks in their own relationship at the point are only amplified on the twinkling ‘Down’ and the tremendous title track ‘22 Break’. Sonically it’s the duo at their finest. The mixture of beautiful acoustic and piano melodies with the pair’s delightfully light harmonies will come as no surprise to anyone who has heard Oh Wonder previously. 

But before you think it’s business as usual, there are a few noticeable tweaks and evolutions to their sound. The record flirts with distorted samples, with electronic flutes, sax crescendoes, and a bridge with expletive-laden, painfully blunt lyrics that cut to the core of the pair apparent on '22 Break'. ‘Don’t Let The Neighbourhood Hear’, is another perfect example with its intense flickering production, that alongside the pairs powerful interjections and sax/jazz transitions is reminiscent of Bon Iver or Big Red Machine’s recent stellar material. The whole effect is to elevate the duo's sound.

The production throughout is also a triumph. Stripped back, Josephine's vocals are given room to breathe; ‘Free’ for instance is a delight. Long term fans of the group will really take to more traditional tracks such as the hopeful ‘Love Me Now’. Closer ‘Twenty Fourteen’ meanwhile is the perfect culmination to the record, hitting the sweet spot of the Oh Wonder melodies and lyrics intertwined with the newer jazzy and alternative production techniques.

Whilst 22 Break almost destroyed the pair, its creation has lead to a long-overdue real insight into the actual two people behind the name of Oh Wonder. Though the album is a swift eleven tracks that never overstays its welcome, the pair have made sure to pack it full of real emotion and heartbreak. Their bravery to step outside their comfort zone both lyrically and sonically has resulted in an incredibly powerful and personal record that hopefully signifies a new and exciting chapter for the duo.

22 Break is out now.

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Photo: Press