£21.99 – 1xLP
By their own design, Oh Wonder have always flown a little below the public radar. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have played music together since 2014 and (on the down-low) been romantically involved since 2013. By the time they confirmed their engagement on ‘No One Else Can Wear Your Crown’, life was good: then of course the pandemic hit, and a 120-date world tour (plus, it transpired, much more besides) came crashing to the ground. This tumultuous and deeply personal time in their private lives is the subject of Oh Wonder’s fifth studio album, ‘22 Break’. Written autonomously in their home studio, the songs that form it are messages about their true feelings, expressed before they were able to find the words to say to one another. It’s a brutally honest and powerfully beautiful record, and one that lets listeners into the Oh Wonder fold like never before. As Josephine puts it: “We were just writing songs. We had no idea we were writing a break-up album.”
Even without distraction, an audience, or adrenaline, Oh Wonder are not a band who sit still for long. But like many forced to analyse their work/life balance under lockdown, the couple had never really known a life together without Oh Wonder in it, either. In the pandemic’s early phases, Anthony and Josephine worked hard to fill that gap: Anthony even decided to open a coffee shop in Peckham (the gorgeous, meticulously designed Nola), which soon saw round-the-block queues and put many of their touring crew back in work. As they started working on new music, however, all the unspoken tensions between the pair tumbled out. All the time these anguished songs were pouring out, Oh Wonder never spoke about what was happening back in the house; never talking directly about the ending, they both felt, that was coming.
‘22 Break’ is a portal into such emotional states, and the life-changing, universal breakup themes (loneliness, inadequacy, resentment, fears for the future) as experienced in real-time by one couple in their garden shed. The production is icy, sparse and filled with bloops and bleeps, like a message from the ether is trying to come through – which, in a way, it was. Amidst the darkness, there finally came a glimmer of hope. With the record written, the couple went away in September 2020 and finally talked. “It was such a weird thing, to make a break-up album with the person you’re breaking up with, while you’re breaking up,” Anthony reflects (the first in history, Josephine thinks). Even weirder, the album that almost ended them proved to be the band’s salvation: ‘22 Break’ is an ultimately cathartic, deeply hopeful project, the light at the end of the tunnel that was Oh Wonder’s quite particular pandemic.
- 22 break
- Don’t let the neighbourhood hear
- Rollercoaster baby
- Love me now
- You > me
- Kicking the doors down
- Twenty fourteen