Ukraine has had a little cultural obsession with trying to be more like America, from what I can tell. They smoke American cigarettes, watch American TV shows and try like hell to make American style music. It's just that, typically, Ukrainian music plays off sounds buried deep within our country's past.
One duo doing just that, but in a way that isn't tired or irrelevant, is Ukrainian abstract instrumental group The Cancel. Their latest album, Daybreak, is steeped in vintage jazz, R&B and hip-hop beats—a refreshing change from foreign pop music that is stuck in the '80s and punk music that can't escape the '90s.
The album is very mature—almost too mature for a couple of guys barely in their twenties. Yet Andrei Zelenskii and Dmitrii Fedusiv seem to be a couple of guys unwilling to let their age determine the kind of music they make.
Songs like "I Need You" flirt with the kind of piano playing you'd hear at a dark jazz night club in the '40s, while "Everybody" blends soulful vocal samples with jazz flute. The Cancel do something a little overdone by adding a jazz guitar track of John Lennon's "Imagine" underneath the song "Travel," but here it actually works. It serves more as a subtle familiarity, providing a warm comfort rather than trading in on the popularity of Lennon's masterpiece.
Each song on Daybreak sits atop asymmetrical hip-hop beats that get their inspiration from dub step and breaks. And nearly every song ends up adding Miles Davis-like trumpet. Tracks are tightly packed—usually lasting less than three minutes—so they don't wander aimlessly. Rather, songs are quick journeys that evoke imagery ranging from a satin-gloved female lounge singer smoking a quellazaire to someone riding a piano though space.
Daybreak is basically a free-flowing album where the synth, hip-hop beats, vocal samples, piano and horns are mixed together into songs that scream sexy. It is neither your dad's R&B nor your grandfather's jazz. It is modern-day sultry and probably the best music to come out of the Ukraine in recent memory.