All eyes have been on one particular hotspot in Eastern Europe ever since mass revolts began there a few years back - this is Ukraine. It seems with the revolutionary spirit has come a higher level of activism on the part of indie musicians (maybe this also has something to do with the growing power of the internet) and an impressive outpouring of creativity, with some artists even making waves beyond their country's borders. Prior to this period of instability, this country was mainly known for such "stable" pop staples as Ruslana (winner of the 2004 Eurovision with 'Wild Dances') and comedic cross-dresser Vera Serduchka with his (her) rendition of 'Dancing Lasha Tumbai' (code for telling Russia where to go). Now what we are witnessing in Ukraine is a huge wave of enthusiastic dynamic and hungry underground musicians, unparalleled to any time previously. Maybe it's due to the high unemployment levels and massive devaluation of the local currency, but certainly must also be fueled by individuals' eagerness to try improve their situation through art. You can't live on air alone, of course, but when where is nothing to do in any case, you sing, play, sample and create. Let's check out some of our picks from among Ukrainian releases from the outgoing year.
Ummagma - Frequency
While Ummagma as a duo may have been "born" in Moscow, it really took root in the remote town of Kremenets in western Ukraine. Along with Pinkshinyultrablast and Sounds of Sputnik, this duo has essentially broken the mold of what an indie band from the ex-USSR is capable of, combining indie pop, shoegaze, and ambient with incredible taste in a dreamy way reminiscent of output from 4AD's "golden age". Releasing this album through labels on both sides of the Atlantic now, this 8-track LP includes beautiful contributions by two outstanding music legends: Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins and Malcolm Holmes of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Stream or buy: 'Frequency'.
Omodada - Кімнати
Omodada is the sole project of Ternopil-based artist Lesik Drachuk, who is also known for his participation in such groups as Los Colorados and Echo Gardens, among others. While most of the album features a diverse indie / psychedelic feel throughout, the final track takes a beautiful tangent electronically. Tik Tu also features on the final track of this release, 'All My Gods', which is a masterpiece.
Stream or buy: 'Кімнати'.
On The Wane - Sick
Consisting of Eugene Voitov (guitar), Anna Lyashok (drums, vocals), Daria Maksimova (bass, vocals), and Alexander Yarosevich (guitar, vocals), this band blows any out of the water for 2015 releases in terms of mixing power-driven genres like grunge, shoegaze and alternative rock. On this standout track 'Light', you can feel how Sonic Youth-esque vocals mix with the energetic ferver of Gang of Four or even The Damned during the 'Phantasmagoria' era. The band also released their debut LP in December of 2014, which is also definitely worth checking out.
On The Wane's website
Stream or buy: 'Sick'.
DaKooka - Radha (2015)
DaKooka is a young singer, pianist, DJ and songwriter from Chernivtsi who, like many other solo acts, collaborates with various musicians to fill out her sound for live performances. This project combines a unique sound, unique vocals and poetry in English, Russian and Polish. Her vocal timbre and style call to mind Roisin Murphy and La Roux, as well as Kosheen and Florence & the Machine. Alexander Sokol, formerly of post-rock duo BeBoBul, is also one of the key musicians involved in this project.
Stream: 'Radha (2015)'.
Zapaska - Vikna Vidchynyty
Based in the mystically historic walled city of Kamenets Podolski, Zapaska is an experimental indie pop duo comprised of Iana Shpachynska and Pavlo Nechytaylo. These guys tour like all the time, mainly keeping closer to home in nearby countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, but for as long as I've been following them, they are always on tour or about to tour. It's amazing they have time for recording but when they do, wonders like this song 'Vikna Vidchynty' come out, letting you ride their wave even from afar.
Buy: 'Vikna Vidchynyty'.
Okean Elzy - Not Your War
This list wouldn't be complete if we didn't mention the most achieved Ukrainian rock band of our time Okean Elzy. This single brings a powerful message that ought to be of interest to anybody interested in the turmoil and sticky situation that is happening in Ukraine, and it's all available for you in either Ukrainian (lyrics) or English (check out the subtitles in this video). The statement released by the band itself says the following: "For centuries, Ukrainians have been brainwashed with foreign ideas, forced to act in foreign interests and fight someone else's wars. Now we have to, finally, take responsibility for our actions and take charge."
Okean Elzy's website
Buy: 'Not Your War'.
Demian Feriy – Incredible Machines
Demian Feriy is an indie-pop, experimental, psychedelic, indietronica project. Demian Feriy's solo work, separate from the other projects he's been involved in previously. This EP seemingly came out of nowhere and landed itself in a fair number of 'Best of 2015' charts within Ukraine itself. Not surprisingly so. Very cool diverse and hi-energy dynamics here and original compositions all around.
Demian Feriy's website
Stream or buy: 'Incredible Machines'.
Mandarinaduck - GardenSouls
This band is a four-piece with guys hailing from the Zaporizhe region of Ukraine. Comprised of Anton Levich, Oleksandr Gurenko, Sergiy Levich and Dmitriy Unaby, their music sits on the verge of shoegaze and indie pop, reminiscent of Nightmare Air, Panda Riot, Ask For Joy and with massive math-rock-hints of Pinkshinyultrablast.
Stream or buy: 'GardenSouls'.
Semmar - Riesling
'Riesling' is Semmar's third single, which was recorded in Ternopil 'Shpytal Records' studio (like the Omodada release covered above). It's being offered as a free download. Somehow this band makes Ukrainian sound funky, like a fundamental element of a train's rhythm while moving. I drew this conclusion even before reading the artist's commentary on this track, which reads: "The song is about how sometimes you change your course of direction. While someone continues to move, you yourself may end up staying home".
Blooms Corda - Monodance (2015)
Based in Kyiv (Kiev), Blooms Corda seem to be a trio (three guys) with a penchant for lo-fi pseudo-acoustic sets. Released through the Derevo label in Ukraine, we really couldn't find much information on them in English, so we are kind of limited in what we can say about them really. Let the music speak for itself.
Blooms Corda's website
Stream or download: 'Moondance'.
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