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How Oh Wonder broke apart to come together in '22 Break'

Breakup albums usually tell one side of the story, but “22 Break” is Oh Wonder’s way of telling us what it’s like to break up and share both perspectives.

Oh Wonder is an alt-pop English duo that sprung onto the scene in 2014 with their series of singles on SoundCloud. At the time, Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht recorded and released a song every month, which culminated in their 15-track, self-titled debut album. Songs like “Drive” and “Without You” explored the highs and lows of relationships and introduced us to the duo’s emotional, easy-listening way of musical storytelling.

Subsequent albums “Ultralife” and “No One Else Can Where Your Crown” proved that Oh Wonder could expand their instrumentation and creativity with electric and uplifting songs mixed in with heart-tugging ballads. In that time, fans learned that the duo fell in love with each other, and Oh Wonder became an example of how beautiful and jovial touring the world with the love of your life could look like. The now-married couple’s fourth album, however, is their most intense, saddest and most honest project to date, and it importantly breaks the illusion of Oh Wonder’s dream relationship. 

The duo was completely candid about the album’s  meaning and inspiration. In their YouTube live announcement released Sept. 22, West and Vander Gucht revealed how they broke up during the pandemic and made an album to figure out how to process, then find their way back to each other.

“We nearly broke up last year, and we wrote an album about it whilst we were breaking up, and it saved us.” Just as nontraditional as their first album was, “22 Break” comes from the  couple’s personal heartbreak, and they later tweeted that their project was “maybe the first break-up album in history written and recorded with the person you’re breaking up with.” It’s a new side of Oh Wonder that fans rarely see, since their social media often show the fun they’ve had on tour together, their cozy coffee shop venture and their cuddly dog Margot. “22 Break” gives listeners an honest and personal project about love and grief, heartache and yearning and finding a way to love each other in a better way.

The music itself draws tears and builds upon the electronic background we’ve come to associate with Oh Wonder. The opening song “Baby” signals what the rest of the album entails – uncovering insecurities about oneself in a hypervisual world that Oh Wonder finds themselves in while dealing with the rolling hills all relationships experience.  

One of the album’s singles “Don’t Let the Neighbourhood Hear” explains this insecurity potently. Oh Wonder sings, “am I not good enough to be loved by you?” in a soaring wail. It gives us a sense of desperation and reminds us that breakdowns in relationships often stem from insecurities about our own lovability and worth. Whether it’s instantaneous heartbreak or drawn-out, difficult breakups, this song, along the album in its entirety, deeply resonate with the hard parts of relationships we often can’t put into words.  

A nice touch to the album’s sound is the saxophone and its sultry solos and runs, and its inclusion only enhances each song’s painful message. “Love Me Now” is acoustically driven for most of its runtime, but the ending has the saxophone play a slow but powerful jazz solo, and mixed with West’s bass whisper, it pushes the song to deep emotional spaces we often are afraid to journey into ourselves.

When discussing their time apart during the album announcement, they mentioned how much love they still had for each other, and songs like “Rollercoaster Baby” show the longing a person has for someone they truly love, even when the relationship feels so brittle. Oh Wonder sings, “there’s a whole in my heart and it’s got your name on it” atop an array of colorful electronic tones and driving percussion. This song perfectly encapsulates the topsy-turvy nature of love, where excitement and pain mix as bad days come just as often as good ones.

This album is accompanied by a 40-minute film that visualizes the heart-wrenching disconnection between two caring lovers. It’s a beautiful but dark take of Oh Wonder through a monochromatic lens, and the album serves as the perfect soundtrack for what appears on screen.

“22 Break,” album and film, remind us that it takes two to break a heart in any committed, loving relationship. Sharing responsibility for a relationship’s struggles is the first step to help both involved by learning to care for the other person and addressing one another’s needs. More jovial Oh Wonder music is on the horizon, as the group hinted at in their live announcement, but for now “22 Break” gives us a close and vulnerable insight on what breaking up and reuniting through music looks like for the married duo from England. Sit down, lay back and have a good cry as you listen to Oh Wonder’s captivating breakup album on repeat.

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