Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Onuka – TY

No, thank YOU…


Will Adams: The genius of Onuka is that even when they aim for a more conventional sound (in this case Spotify-core; check that vaporwave breakdown!), is that it’ll be a gorgeous, elevated rendition of that sound. “TY” may be less exciting than their previous singles, but the elements remain just as appealing: textured percussion, brass functioning as a robust bass section, sopilka fluttering about, and Nata Zhyzhchenko’s icy soprano. I don’t believe I could ever deny their formula.

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: “The message of Onuka,” bandleader Nata Zhyzhchenko declares in the documentary accompanying “TY,” “is a combination of folk sounds with ethno components and with layers of modern music through which you can show these ancient codes for young people who understand the language of modernity.” Rarely are artists able to so pristinely declare the ethos of their creation without bullshitting. “TY” sounds at once like an ethereal, mystical journey in Ukrainian history led by banduras and flutes, and a dystopian, futuristic pop rave feeding off of horns and vocoders. Onuka’s ability to bring these two worldviews seamlessly together is nothing short of fantastical. (Now, can someone just explain to me how and why this track is sponsored by a Hennessy Instagram challenge?)

Ian Mathers: I actually really like that adenoidal flute(?) hook, kind of wish they’d done even more with it since it’s the most interesting part of the production. Wait, isn’t that basically how I felt last time? Ah well. Nevertheless,

Nortey Dowuona: A flute is one of the most beautiful instruments created, since its high pitched whistle can communicate with birds and hold your attention all by itself. It’s why even when synths became the dominant creation of songs, flutes never went away, they just created emulators and kept plucking them in the middle of the mix. ONUKA does this at the beginning and in a detour throughout the song. They lay the keening flute emulator atop the chomping drums and swampy synth horns, hiding the sweeping chorus behind them, until the last of the flute leads us away. Absolutely beautiful.

Alfred Soto: Burial? Vaporwave? They fit Onuka, who start “TY” with the expected clicks and clucks before the entry of marvelous screeches and synth horns. What I expect a 007 anthem to sound like in 2021.

Dorian Sinclair: I really like a number of the components of “TY”; the ghostly sopilka at the top of the song (which recurs in the beautifully understated first section of the later instrumental breakdown), the stuttery percussion, and as ever Nata Zhyzhchenko’s voice. The song is structured well too, albeit with an ending a little more abrupt than I would prefer. What lets it down are just a couple of production choices. Zhyzhchenko jumping up the octave on the second verse feels like a misstep — albeit one I understand as an attempt to build intensity — but the real problem for me is the synth chosen to restate the instrumental hook, first at 1:18 and then at 2:25. Onuka’s instrumentals are usually really resonant and full, but this particular synth lead is just so dead-sounding. It stands out dramatically from the soundscape around it, and not in a way that I think helps the song at all.

Tim de Reuse: Orchestral instruments in an electropop song usually serve the role of sonic packing material (with all the flavor that implies) but this tune avoids that pitfall by forcing them into a rubbery, stop-start rhythm on one end and a Bollywood-style shrieking violin on the other. The immaculate sound design is, unfortunately, not enough to elevate the plucky warble of a melody that passes for a main hook.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Hints at more than it delivers; the sonic melange of the intro into the Kelela-esque robot funk of the verse implies some grand work of sci-fi pop, but everything is just slightly too mannered to be truly great. Putting together all these disparate elements is still an accomplishment, but when it’s all wrapped up in a slightly-dated drop structure you can’t help but feel slightly let down.

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