Breathing new life into Irish Folk: Lankum – False Lankum
I debated typing this, given it’s a season late and the clocks aren’t stopping, but I’m just going to do it. Some rules were made to be broken today, and I am in debt to time.
I’ve been aware of, and heard some great music from Lankum in the past. Initially springing to mind is their last record. Of course, it even won the Mercuary Prize, which as I’m sure you’ll all know, is often a kiss of death for many acts who take the prize. But not for Lankum. Anything but! I myself, first heard this record with eyes overcast, and it made a profound influence on my subconscious, and does so more with each listen. I fell into a deep sleep and saw a strange movie in sepia tone. It was some kind of crossbreed between Virgil’s Aeneid and Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. I was stunned, and although I risk sounding pretentious, it might be the best way to describe this albums power. Lankum, through 70 minutes, play their hands at reworking mostly traditional Irish songs, bar 2 originals. This time detuning their instruments, playing them behind their heads, breaking them up with noisy industrial fuges, and in general skating shamelessly over a map of Ireland that has been skated across thousands of times, but this time in sparkling new skates.
In March a conversation convinced me I would be impressed. I was sitting in a Shoreditch pub with the wonderful folk at Rough Trade Records, the publican played sweet nothings at just the right level below our din, and we were all abuzz. The label have some great acts lined up for green man, Sleaford Mods have an impressive Mojo Magazine feature, and I was finally inspired to read Billie Holidays autobiography. But most of all I was convinced that Lankum haven’t lost their spark. Pre release, Ben Ayres of Cornershop fame, told me with a smile that False Lankum is Geoff Travis’s new favourite record. Travis allegedly came in, and played it full volume the day the band finished it. Sat in the basement he undoubtedly woke the sleepwalking commuters that day, and for the better.
Seconds into the record I think of this story, when Lankum give perhaps the greatest, and certainly the most original rendition of Go Dig My Grave yet (originally dating back to 1611!). Radie Peats, her voice as chilling in acapella as when the rest of the band accompany her, sings the traditional foreboding about a woman who will sacrifice her own life for the sake of love. The rest of the band methodically build to a climax after the woman is found ‘hanging from a rope’. Some measured drones enter the crime scene, and they sound exactly as they would if they were figures extending over the dead body, holding on to false hope with elastic resistence. Gated snare shots hit like shotguns, engulfing the tracks calamity, and filling its listener with gothic, theatrical horror. It’s a masterwork, and marks something this record does very, very well in all of its heaviest moments. The kind of record you should be testing a new pair of speakers on. And to credit the band, it’s just as genius to have the ability to merge this with quiet, and frankly beautiful numbers, without the album once feeling inconsistent.
Take the next song, Clear Away The Morning, which seemlessly washes the blood away from the last track. A quiet landsick number about a sailor not wanting to leave the ship he has been boarding. Again, the music here creates moods next to none, this time guitars leave an undulating shadow that create a canvas of its own, desperately clinging to remain in the present, inside, warm, and away from the horrors of worlds like Go Dig My Grave. It’s as peaceful as a shore when the tide comes in. And that can only be a compliment, given the band spent the recording of this album deliberately by the Dublin coastline.
Master Crowley’s, a classic instrumental reel dominated by concertina, is another moment of diverse joy. Especially a part in the middle where the band get their hands dirty with thick experimentation soil. It sounds like the band are scraping saws against the microphones and recording howling birds by a cold sea, it’s currents ever nearing an accident. A texture I can’t quite place in any other record, except maybe Pink Floyd’s Echoes.
As the album continues, it coalesces into the crystal guitar sounds of Newcastle (oh, the yearning!) and of Nessa Perseus, an impressive, and thoughtful original that could well be about falling in love with Medusa. The execution is wonderful, notably the small details when it comes to mixing the choir and hesistant guitar reverb, a true art of the ‘I need to repeat this when the records done’ school. As is the highly tragic 14 verse yarn, Lord Abore and Mary Flynn, which has some of the best, and most beautiful harmonies found on any record in the last 20 years. Before we leave, I say the same about the raw guitar performance on this track
Not to forget The New York Trader, which like Go Dig My Grave, hits hard, and uses it’s length to it’s advantage. Marching themselves through a measured acoustic sea shanty, before sweating themselves into a nuts punky climax, Lankum have officailly declared a coup d’état, and likely opened a few rums in celebration of this theatrical record. A toxic sailor being thrown overboard for his ruthless acts. It’s all a lot of swashbuckling fun. And for anyone wanting something more relatable, Lankum have your back on the hangover anthem, On A Monday Morning. Grey with it’s dusty and relatable protagonist, the themes of scratching a lean living from threadbare pockets, gives the record a very human, and sadly timeless feel.
Lankum’s final track, the 13 minute ‘The Turn’ is similarly sad. A grinding number, and an original from Lynch’s pen. This one is full of existential musings on our existence and evolution as a race, with a chorus signalling a faint beacon of light that he is reaching for. I don’t think our protagonist reaches it though, given the band tunnel themselves underground into some noisy sweeping winds of shoegazey hellscapes for the rest of the track, before burning out into a wall of sound, maybe it’s the sound of death. I suppose it’s true that every sad story is a folk song in the making. And this album really feels like a statement. I can’t fault it, and sincerely think it will , or should become a staple of modern music. Time will tell.