A few weeks ago, in a quest for some fresh air and exercise, I took a four-mile evening stroll. Beneath the foreboding sky that carpeted the unseasonably warm evening, the sheer weight of the ugliness and cruelty that’s seemingly poisoned the entire world lately felt overwhelming. Then, as I strolled further along my route, Forgive Yourself, the debut long-player from Seattle singer/songwriter LŪKA, made its way onto my phone as accompaniment.
I’ve stopped counting the number of times when what was going on around me inexorably changed or amplified my feelings about a piece of music. Call it the Right Music at the Right Time axiom—something that kicked in, in spades, as I listened to Forgive Yourself in its entirety.
The record radiated the kind of warmth that most definitely felt like sunshine bursting through some dark emotional clouds that night, but I wondered if that spell would dissipate in the harsh light of day. Happily, even after further repeat listens in myriad emotional spaces, Forgive Yourself has more than held up.
LŪKA describes his music as ‘folktronica,’ and that’s not entirely off-base. As Luke Williams, he co-founded the terrific, underrated roots/folk act Youth Rescue Mission in the late Oughts with three of his siblings. And LŪKA continues to embrace a variation of YRM’s folk-leaning blend of introspection, peerless singing, and solid melodies.
But with Forgive Yourself, LŪKA augments those very earthy ingredients with an electronic pop backbone. It’s a winning fusion right out of the gate with “Shattered Kid.” The track opens up the album with a driving bass line and techno-informed synths worthy of some great lost New Order song, in the service of LUKA’s expressive, oft-angelic voice.
The remaining tracks on LŪKA’s debut album all navigate that duality skillfully. “Spirals” interweaves LŪKA’s croon, a lyrical exploration of his childhood home, and a stately piano melody with surging electric orchestration and mechanized shuffles that add a sense of restlessness to the contemplation. “Fearless” deploys insidiously catchy electro-dance percussion that punctuates LŪKA’s unearthly falsetto, and “Fulcrum” steers that falsetto through some captivating electro-soul detours. All along, the hookiness of the songs, and LŪKA’s evocative lyrics and voice, provide Forgive Yourself‘s center.
A significant part of the credit for how well this synergy of electronic and organic plays goes to producer/engineer Nick Ward (formerly of Hey Marseilles), with mixer Mike Davis putting extra polish on Forgive Yourself at Seattle’s Hall of Justice, the studio founded by former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla. The end result’s an immersive sound that LŪKA runs with. Ward’s atmospheric production layers LŪKA’s singing with ethereal harmonies, enveloping synths, and even a tastefully-deployed autotune on “Rise and Shine.”
Nowhere does this collaboration shine brighter than on “Otherside,” which tempers its undeniably heavy lyrical concerns with a lilting guitar hook and LŪKA’s gorgeous, layered self-harmonizing. It’s a powerfully moving examination of mortality and redemption, delivered with unerring beauty. And at a time when the world seems ready to collapse in on itself, Forgive Yourself’s atmospheric, heart-on-sleeve loveliness isn’t just a textbook case of The Right Music at the Right Time: It’s a carefully-crafted bit of magic that’s built to last through the best of times, and through the worst of them.
Forgive Yourself drops at Bandcamp for a soft release on November 11; The album hits all other major streaming platforms on November 22.