Oh Wonder’s 22 Break is a patchwork quilt of October sounds


Apple Music

The album cover for Oh Wonder’s 22 Break, a break-up album written by the people who were breaking up.

I often think that I’m a collage of all of the people I’ve ever met, that I’ve spent my life collecting little pieces from people to call my own—insignificant little things, like saying “sick” in a conversation, folding my left leg up onto my seat while I drive, and nearly every song that decorates my Spotify playlists. 

Those Spotify playlists are truly the best representation of all of the people who’ve meant something to me, peppered with artists like Jon Bellion, Maude Latour, Greta Van Fleet, Maisie Peters, Alec Benjamin, and Oh Wonder. 

I first became aware of Oh Wonder through the words of former Editor-in-Chief Abby Wright when I was 15 years old. I was beginning to break out of an acoustic shell, discovering the musical sound that I held an affinity for, and Oh Wonder’s music was instrumental in that journey. 

Their 2019 release, “Hallelujah,” serenaded me on my bus ride to school many a gray and wintery morning, and those pale purple melodies tumbling over each other will always draw me back to a far simpler time in my life.

But while “Hallelujah” will always evoke memories from the winter of my sophomore year, Oh Wonder’s newest album, 22 Break, will forever memorialize the fall of my senior year. 

Composed during the height of the pandemic by singer-and-songwriters Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, 22 Break is actually a break up album, written together by the people who were “breaking up.” In the time between the release of their EP Home Tapes and the release of 22 Break, the creative and romantic duo faced calamity in their personal relationship. This album was the very thing that brought them back together, but it sheds light on the brokenness that they shared as they nearly ended things for good. Cast in a rosy light now that the couple is happily married and promoting their album together, it’s achingly beautiful in its brokenness and hopefulness.

Containing 11 songs, 22 Break is a quilt composed of polychromatic-patterned squares. While the overall sound of the album is consistent, I felt I could tear each song apart at its seams in a magnificent way—separating each song into a verse, chorus, and bridge.

The album kicks off with “Baby,” two minutes and fifteen seconds of deep, staticky vibrations and dark, mellifluous vocals. It opens with the needle-drop of a record player and is suffused with a subtly crackling background and the deeply muffled echoes of the main vocals. 

“Baby” exhibits a distinctly sleepy presence—that of the hours before dawn, groggy morning voices, and coffee brewing in the pot. It progresses slowly and evenly, never picking up tempo, but there is a blossom of sound and lyrics towards that end that streaks the final verses with an iridescent hope. 

Despite its fundamentally mournful composition, “Baby” offered the comfort of a heavy blanket, of five p.m. pitch-black skies, of irreparably broken confessions sobbed over the phone.

What “Baby” lacks in vivacity, “Down”—the second track on the album—makes up for with overlapping vocals rendered in whimsical threads of light. It’s the epitome of the patchwork nature of this album. 

The beginning fills the space with a lacy grab at attention, flowing crisply into the chorus—a layered repetition of the song’s title. It feels like sinking upward, if that means anything, and I settle into the song at the chorus, feeling my heart soften into my ribcage like the splayed wings of a butterfly.

The bridge shifts the fabric of the song yet again—a clear-cut break between the jumping, dancing streams of the first half and the methodical footstep beats of the second half. The bridge brings clarity to the song as the lyrics take center stage amidst the symphony of sounds in the background. 

In its final verses, “Down” melds together into a cyclical sort of ending, weaving each separate thread of the song into a smoothly blended finale. 

Clocking in at a minute and forty-three seconds, “Dinner” is a brief deviation from the rosy melodies of 22 Break. While it spirals with the same fluidity, it’s jazzy, mellow, and timeless, smearing my surroundings away like a splash of water against drying paint. 

“Dinner” paints its own picture in place of the one it washes away. Faceless figures mill about under dim speakeasy lights. Pinstriped suits and shimmering flapper dresses punctuate the wandering crowd; mystery lingers in the air—each dark form hiding a story, a secret. 

The lyrics ripple against a rolling, rounded beat, and while the song never nears the standards of “upbeat,” I can’t keep my foot from tapping, my fingers from dancing over invisible piano keys, or my shoulders from swaying to the smooth rhythm.

I am nothing less than entranced by the stumbling, echoing background beats and the breezy, tapping, falling ones that drip-drop down a staircase.

“Rollercoaster Baby” captures those drip-dropping beats and scatters them sweetly into a beautifully bubbling intro. This song is undeniably my favorite on the album; it fills me with delirious happiness every single time that it’s effervescent beats break apart in my ears. 

The confluent sound effects at the beginning click and shimmer and bubble into the pre-chorus, dancing and contorting in little bursts of color. It’s like a stained glass window, like windchimes—ethereal and artistic, moving with the wind and the whims of light itself. 

The pre-chorus itself builds, builds, builds, like a rollercoaster approaching its peak, brushing against the airbrushed clouds and honeyed sunlight. The lyrics climb and twist around each other, a striped swirl of bright colors wrapping around the empty cavities of my chest. I am torn between letting every part of my body become one with the intoxicating rise of this song and simply closing my eyes and melting into the warm rays of sunlight and wavering ribbons of color.

In its entirety, 22 Break is hauntingly beautiful and intricately immersive. I’ve found it’s magic best conveyed through my headphones as I grasp at moments of peace or at full volume as I cruise down Cascade, the fiery autumn leaves framing the gray-blue streets. Most importantly, 22 Break is laced with hope—a break-up album released by a now-happily-married couple—and it’s coloring this unforgettable October with streaks of purple and orange.