Over a year since the invasion of Ukraine began, what are the sounds of Kyiv these days? Some are easy to imagine: screeching sirens, deafening explosions, the hurried footsteps in and out of shelters. But as the writer Dave Eggers put it on a recent trip documented in The New Yorker, there is also a “profound defiance” that can be found in “every packed café and gallery.” What does that sound like?
Many different things, one presumes. To get a sense of just how varied the sounds of Ukraine are these days, it’s worth checking out the band Я стану краще, which translates to “I Will Get Better.” If you think that sounds like a particularly emo name to call a band, you’re right. I Will Get Better’s latest, a five-track EP called Коли ми були разом, or When We Were Together, is a delightful quick hit that showcases how Midwestern emo has crossed borders that even the Russian army cannot touch.
The foursome have a sound that calls to mind emo heroes like Braid and Algernon Cadwallader. Lead singer Andriy Bychkovskyi starts off the opening track, “Інстаграм,” or “Instagram,” with a quick “Woo!” and then the band is off to the races. Oleksii Ostrovskii on guitar and Anton Kukoviakin on bass make a tight and knotty string section, and the two chime in with charming background vocals as well. They repeat what Bychkovskyi says, which makes his melodies hit that much harder. They give a slightly ramshackle, homey feel to the whole enterprise. They sound like they’re recording in the garage next door, as opposed to in the middle of war.
Of course, Google Translate will only take me so far: I have no idea what Bychkovskyi is saying on songs like Щось нове (“Something new”) or “Марную час” (“I’m wasting my time”) or Пісня про жука (“A song about a beetle”) but I know yearning when I hear it. It comes through with special clarity on “beetle,” where a slow rhythm exudes a sense of nostalgia before Bychkovskyi’s vocals pick up and give it a feeling of something more like determination. It reminded me a little of Lync’s underrated 1994 song “Turtle,” which documents life from the perspective of a baby turtle just being hatched.
Listening to Коли ми були разом while walking around Brooklyn, I was interrupted by my own sirens: ambulances and fire trucks driving from one place to another. I wondered if that was the best way to listen to the band’s music—with wailing sirens and alarms in the background, even if the circumstances of mine couldn’t be more different from theirs.
It’s a five-track, 10-minute EP made by self-described “intellectuals who play punk rock and are sad.” It’s a little bit of fun about being sad in a moment when being sad feels very serious. Even if you can’t understand what they’re saying, you’ll find something to relate to.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.