Lankum Reviewed!

Read MOJO’s verdict on the new album from Lankum, False Lankum.


by Jim Wirth |

The Dublin folk-horror merchants tack into stormy waters on fourth album.



False Lankum


THE KARMA POLICE come calling nine verses into Ian Lynch’s assault on the traditional The New York Trader, the pitch rising from sinister to positively bloodthirsty as supernatural forces conspire to out the song’s cruel sea captain as a heartless killer. Outraged that their commander once did in his master as well as his own “wife and children three”, the half-starved crew fling the captain into the Atlantic, but as the storm magically calms, Lankum are far from done, their wheezing, thunderous, Marble Index death trip carrying on into a frenzied coda as the New York Trader’s passengers limp into port: brutalised, terrified, but alive, alive, alive.

Dominated by seafaring songs, the Dubliners’ fourth LP offers hurricane-force drama at times, but if Lankum’s nostrils flare at the prospect of dark seas and watery graves, False Lankum – conceived in the shrunken world of landlocked lockdown – also tells a less grisly tale about growing up and realising that your swashbuckling days might be over. If modern folk music needs its own OK Computer, its own The Dark Side Of The Moon, or indeed its own F#A#∞, this may well be it.

Now comfortably selling out 1,000-plus-capacity venues, Lankum were formed by brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, who came to traditional music via Dublin’s hardcore punk scene, and then enlisted fellow multi-instrumentalists Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat to form a different kind of folk group. 2014’s Cold Old Fire (released under their original name, Lynched) and 2017’s Between The Earth And Sky set out their stall: Planxty with menaces. But Lankum doubled down the Sunn O))) drones and extreme metal dynamics for 2019’s The Livelong Day. Their taut, 10-minute drag through The Wild Rover was something of a calling card, the traditional session crowd-pleaser hauled back to its roots as a temperance ballad, its goodtime boy hero re-cast as a dead-eyed, desperate soak.

Lankum’s willingness to interrogate songs fathoms more painful territory on False Lankum’s opener Go Dig My Grave. A traditional tale of love, betrayal and suicide, it can come across as a heroic testament to youthful ardour as the young female protagonist leaves a message for her grieving family to tell the world that she “died for love”. Uncannily voiced by in-house Lorelei Peat, Lankum’s take is a nightmarish graveyard plod. She’s Leaving Home from hell, the song is wrenched inside out to expose the parents’ grief, as taunting fiddle whines highlight the immature narcissism that prompts the heroine to destroy herself for the 18th-century equivalent of Instagram likes.

A similarly gothic intensity is brought to The New York Trader and their fire-and-brimstone take on two-part reel Master Crowley’s, concertinas beset by booms and clanks from the devil’s forge. Perhaps no one since Comus’s 1971 slasher First Utterance has succeeded in making acoustic instruments sound quite so oppressive, but for all of its awesome firepower, the quieter parts of False Lankum often speak the loudest.

Shot through with the wistful spirit of Atom Heart Mother-era Pink Floyd, their slide-guitar-infused version of ’60s folkie Gordon Bok’s ersatz shanty Clear Away In The Morning tells of a sailor itching to put out to sea again and leave messy shore-life behind. However, as Lankum – age range, 35-42 – are doubtless well aware, there comes a time when running off for a life on the ocean wave is no longer a dignified option. Head down, frown fixed, their gloriously sullen trudge through naval balladeer Cyril Tawney’s requiem for a lost weekend, On A Monday Morning, creaks under the weight of adult responsibility. “Too soon to be out of bed,” Daragh Lynch drawls ruefully. “Too soon to be at this bus-queue caper.”

As it yearns for a tomorrow that isn’t as dreary as today, False Lankum casts a wistful glance at the world of romance. Peat’s gentle take of Newcastle deftly gilds a traditional hard luck story of a suitor shunted away by his beloved’s parents. “Why should I not love my love?” she sings, cursing the unfairness of the cosmos. “Why shouldn’t my love love me?” MacDiarmada returns to a similar theme on a banjo-spangled run through Lord Abore And Mary Flynn: a typically deranged child ballad in which a mother resorts to poisoning her teenaged son rather than allowing him his choice of a partner.

However, on Daragh Lynch’s own cryptic Netta Perseus (Simon & Garfunkel with night terrors), there is a sense that an impossible relationship – even with a bit of light poisoning – might be an easier proposition than a genuine one, as a seemingly unattainable partner materialises into a worryingly real one. “Now that she stands here before me between the green Earth and the sky,” he sings. “She whispers that she does adore me, but I dare not look into those eyes.”

His 13-minute closer, The Turn, is more despondent still, Lynch scraping round for a reason to go on. A 21st-century descendant of Fairport Convention’s crushed The Flowers Of The Forest, its chorus offers some weak hope of happiness to come (“we’ll find better days”) but cannot envisage when that might be. “The sun it turns to laugh at you and the planet that you’re on,” he mutters. Conclusion: life is complicated, you’ve probably already had the best of it, and it’s going to end badly. As if to prove the point, the song slowly disintegrates, a clattering bodhran groove melting into a churning avant-noise racket and then a single frail little whimper.

However, if everyone’s ship is doomed to go down with all hands, _False Lankum’_s tales of despair and defeat embrace that misery, positing it might be better to be driven half mad with existential terror or thwarted desire than to feel nothing. As the New York Trader’s company come ashore in “Amerikay”, onlookers gasp to see “such a poor distressed and shipwreck crew”, but Lankum know enough about mid-life ennui to sense the jealousy in those eyes. Better to have felt the storm raging and the timbers shivering than to be forever treading water.

False Lankum is out 24 March, via Rough Trade

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