Casa Ukrania — Ofira (2019)

Тихо підкрадеться вечір за вікном.
Спи, моя дитино, забувайся сном.
Як не будеш спати, вийде із землі,
З'їсть упир косматий оченьки твої.

(An evening falls silently outside your window
Sleep, my dear baby, descent into dreams
But if you don`t sleep, then a horrible ghoul
Will come from the ground and eat your sweet eyes)
 
"Maruna"

Casa Ukrania ("Ukrainian House") is the name of Odessa-based duo, also happened to be a married couple. Also, in Alejandro Jodorowski's film "Dance of Reality", it stands for the name of the store, owned by a Jewish-Ukrainian migrant to Chile. For the third consecutive album, an image of a strange splash of Ukrainian culture among dark and bizarre magical realism quite accurately describes the direction of this band. Two and a half years have passed since the release of their previous "Ouroboros" album. All this time Casa Ukrania was active and have, among other things, contributed their songs to numerous compilations by esoteric music labels Khatacomb and Heliophagia. These tracks were quite strong and sustained in a similar style and sound, which resulted in them being the basis for their new full-length release, which got the name "Ofira". Despite the fact that it is a collection of separately released songs, all these stories work beautifully together and reinforce each other.

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Photo Renata Kazhan

If we go back in time and look into debut album "Terra Ukrania", we`ll find out that CU played a rather abstract ethnic electronica without all those occult-tinged stories that are already deeply associated with them. However, they didn`t produce this generic ethnic stuff, played by bands like ONUKA, Yuko or Alina Pash, which can only be good as a soundtrack to a costume show or street fashion collection. Instead, there were some self-sufficient stories. Mostly these were inspired by Fever Ray and Theodor Bastard, but an attentive listener could also notice a number of other influences – from Massive Attack to Dead Can Dance, although impact of latter Casa Ukrania have directly denied. With exception of Nata’s vocals and woodwinds, the music was completely electronic. Then came out the second full-length "Ouroboros". More holistic than the previous work, the album was marked by a larger number of live instruments (like percussion and acoustic guitar) and a transition to a classic neofolk approach akin to Death in June and Current 93 with all its characteristic features, except perhaps flirting with fascism. This fairly abrupt change of direction gave us hope that the next release would also surprise us with some unexpected development. As we can see now, those expectations were met on "Ofira".

The word "Ofira" in Ukrainian means sacrifice and it quite well defines the general background of what we get here: blood, death, fire, purification and the earth as the one, who accepts these sacrifices. If you already see this LP as rather gloomy and occult, there`s more coming. While there wasn’t much room for joy and humor on previous Casa Ukrania album, it will be even more difficult to find these on "Ofira". It’s not about some inner darkness here though, because Casa Ukrania will tell you about some external phenomena, and you sure will find them dark enough. Just a few examples: the opener "Hai Palaie Nebo" was dedicated to the Celtic Imbolc spring festival, "Maruna"  devoted to Sauin and song with the marvelous name "Nekropolem" is about Lughnasadh harvest festival. If these images do not cause you enough bloody associations, then there is a more literal "May Day" song dedicated to the Beltain love holiday: a romantic story that ends with a human sacrifice through a burning at the stake (reminding us about folk horror and, notably, "Wicker Man"). As we can see, these songs have two lyrical themes: human confronting forces of dire nature or human confronting otherworldly powers. Sometimes it’s also the same thing. In both cases, it ends tragically, because comparing to those powers people are small, weak and short-lived.

Another remarkable thing: although "Ofira" somewhat lyrically continues the theme of the previous full-length, it is musically different. First of all, they dropped guitar and percussion, leaving very few live instruments, mostly woodwind. Soft electronic sequences in combination with a flute and neat samples drive absolutely all the songs here. You don`t meet any departures from style, like you could in "Ouroboros" with its bluesy "Another Train Passing By", nor you don`t find aggressive bangers like "Faces of Death". As the duo says in annotation to "Ofira", this is an unhurried album. It barely changes its rhythm throughout the way. If you ask me, this "new" style clearly resembles the darker side of CU`s ethno-electronic debut "Terra Ukrania". This is by no means bad, since within this musical formula CU manages to remain interesting and convincing throughout the album.

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By Alex Proletarsky

It is also worth noting that the texts have now evolved from being mainly English to being predominantly Ukrainian. Although Natalia’s English texts turned out to be solid, Ukrainian lyrics sound even more ominous in this context, which only benefits the whole picture. There are two covers on this album, and both of them, at least partially, have Ukrainian lyrics. The first is "Imla", which is cover of "Í tokuni" by the Faroese singer Eivør, sounds no less fatal and magical than the original. The second one, Kip Tyler’s hit "I`m your Witch" (originally She`s My Witch), was recorded with the participation of Renata Kazhan from the friendly project Zukkor Zzov, whose powerful vocals in this one create an image of a female Screamin` Jay Hawkins.

So what are these 9 songs all about? What is this album trying to tell us? Basically, the message is similar to what we heard in "Ouroboros", with certain differences. Back then Casa Ukrania just hinted us about how new life rises from the death of the old. Now they have the same message, but they also describe the whole process meticulously with enthusiasm of Hannibal Lecter. It also has something to do with historical background we are all experiencing: the war, which is frighteningly close, threatens and affects our people, which keeps us remembering about the fragility of material life. The darker side of reality, which most Ukrainian artists tend to carefully avoid, serves as a wonderful source of inspiration for Casa Ukrania. Of course, this is precisely why we love them generally. But for instance, this is the feature that can make "Ofira" a loveable piece of music for any lover of macabre aesthetics. Strangely enough, it doesn`t matter, are you a fan of ethnic electronica of neofolk: it’s the story that gets you in the end.

The opinions expressed in the reviews convey the views of the authors themselves and do not necessarily reflect the position of Neformat.com.ua

Casa Ukrania in social networks:

https://casaukrania.bandcamp.com/
https://www.instagram.com/casaukrania/
https://www.facebook.com/casaukraniamusic/
https://soundcloud.com/casaukrania 

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1. Hai Palaie Nebo
2. Imla
3. Symonka-Jazdzeniec (ft. Drwiwy)
4. Ofira
5. Maruna
6. May Day
7. I`m Your Witch (ft. Zukkor Zzov)
8. Nekropolem
9. Krov Moia

18.10.2019