Released today (May 1st) the new album from Greek-Australian poet Luka Lesson takes great leaps musically. Refreshingly mutable, fluidly shifting through styles, musical and poetic ideas, EXIT is an album with a heart of uncompromising truth.
Luka says “Straight journeys do not make for good travellers.” True, that. EXIT is a travel guide for the adventurous soul.
Opening with the round from that disturbing psalm Waters of Babylon, Luka comes direct in with the word ‘monster’ and sets the tonefrom there. It’s a voice of total conviction, total commitment to poetry as an educational, inspirational and personally transformational force.
Yesterday Luka wrote “...I didn’t try to make what I thought people would like… I didn’t pre-think hooks or story-lines that would work for radio or even connect with a particular audience even for a second…I approached every track as a poet, first and foremost, and I trusted that whatever came out would be the natural and ‘correct’ thing to have on there.”
Musically EXIT is a mercurial, fascinating journey through both acoustic and electronic sounds. And I include the voice when I speak about the music because producer and mixer Jordan Thomas Mitchell (with ISHU & James Mangohig on co-production) plays with Luka’s voice as much as he plays with guitars or keyboard loops. As much as Luka has developed his vocal chords to wrap around quick-fire rap or slow-burn spoken styles, musically his arms have widened to embrace sounds and moods from many corners of the hip hop world – with obvious influence from his recent collaborators in the melodic, passionate low bap Greek scene and perhaps a little also from recent travels with the poets in South Africa. The album is an international collaboration, with Mitchell in China, and also featuring guest appearances by Nahko Bear, Jordan Thomas Mitchell and Hailey Cramer.
A musician friend once explained to me why he loved particularly the songwriting of women. He said, “women will take a song to totally unexpected places, they will suddenly shift direction, shift key or tempo, go to an unexpected bridge, whereas men follow a much more obvious structure.“ I’m not as sure as my friend that this is purely a female trait. His point came to mind as I listened to EXIT this week. I believe it is a reflection of an artists’ willingness to be vulnerable. And by vulnerable, not just taking about it or writing about it – living and expressing without second-guessing ourselves or worrying about the reception. I love to find this unfiltered flow in music, in hip hop and poetry. It may be this sense of adventurous vulnerability that opens our minds to receive and gives us also, the necessary pleasure in art. The joy.
The opening track of EXIT is a perfect example of this. Luka’s rap and the musical bed switch and change and dart in unexpected directions – the effect is to take us on a journey both furious and exhilarating. The text itself is fury and exhilaration, poets and demons, injustice, warring humans and warring thoughts – poets’ demons. The same could be said of the album as a whole. ‘Classic’ hip hop beats and samples, dubstep fuzz, faded mandolin, folk-inflected writing, some jazz notes (typically of hip hop production, drawing influence to the forefront, looping it, celebrating it). The sensibility is collaboration, exploration. The ‘sub-title’ is Escape inwards. Coming as it does from an artist who’s been travelling the past few years, it’s a journey through the world inside, that philosophical place you can only truly inhabit when travelling.
The first video single 5th Season isone of the more muted (and lovely) tracks and poetically, reaching to the heart of things – what this seeking is, every writer’s midnight hour … “Because this search is not a stepping stone/ A journey or a path/ This search is a letting go/ Back into the shapes we were first cast…” ... (full lyrics at the YouTube link)
Luka also wrote yesterday “Everything was a gut reaction.” And that’s absolutely how it sounds. Whatever your aesthetic reaction is (and our reactions to music, to poetry, are totally subjective, which is as it should be) there’s one thing we’ll all I think agree on here – this is a series of poems, songs, cries, from the gut. This is a lesson in authenticity and kinetic, ambient, truth. This is a great album, no question.
Luka’s goal with this album is to bypass record label marketing convention, give it away free directly to his “#EXITFAM” worldwide. Over the past few months Lesson has amassed a street team of over 200 fans worldwide across six continents who are poised to distribute his music and I guess the dream takes off today! Get the album, free, at lukalesson.com.au
To explore the process along with Luka, he has been posting a series of videos talking about each track, much like Anthony Joseph did with Time earlier this year – you can watch them at his YouTube page.