Album Of The Week: Lankum – False Lankum

The Irish quartet return with an album of astonishingly emotive folk that is anything but traditional

Irish trad has a particular power. It’s a kind of direct connection to your emotional core, built on ballads and stories that ache with tragedy, loss and regret. Lankum may distort the form somewhat into altered shapes, but none of the impact is dulled by their experimentation. In fact, False Lankum often feels all the more potent for the band’s sonic storytelling. At times, unbearably so.

False Lankum finds the band crossing the threshold of their first decade together. Over that time, they’ve never hurried, their release schedule as deliberate as the pacing of their songs, like some internal clock dictates their every move. Their third album The Livelong Day saw their profile rise considerably, but they’ve still waited three and a half years before following it up. And when they finally did tease new music in ‘Go Dig My Grave’, there was no concession to mainstream tastes, more a doubling down on what makes Lankum so effective.

Lankum - Go Dig My Grave (Official Video)

‘Go Dig My Grave’ opens False Lankum like it’s a Robert Eggers horror. Its tale of love rejected, accumulated from various traditional songs, is accentuated by Radie Peat’s keening vocals. It’s colossally heavy and imposing, seeming to close in around you as the instrumentation begins to feel like the screaming inside a grief-stricken head. No quarter is given, but if you’ve come here with an existing love of Lankum, you wouldn’t expect it or want it.

That stark, brutal opener lingers ominously even through the pretty melody of ‘Clear Away In The Morning’, as an institutionalised sailor begs his shipmates not to sail back to shore. The deep drone that persists throughout the song, carried over from ‘Go Dig My Grave’, sounds almost like the creaking of the ship’s boards. Even a rattling jig like ‘Master Crowley’s’ starts to derail into somewhere dark, like a party souring just when it’s turned too late to leave.

Lankum - The New York Trader (Official Visualiser)

The undoubted highlight of False Lankum is the stunning ‘Newcastle’, a 17th century ballad that shows the timeless power of unrequited love in its gorgeous refrain: “Why should I not love my love? Why shouldn’t my love love me? Why should I not speed after her when love to all is free?” Times may have changed but the unanswerable questions of love remain the same. I listened to it for the first time on a train journey and felt an urge to turn back and grab hold of everyone I love. Not many songs can do that.

Lankum - Newcastle (Official Audio)

Just two of the album’s 12 songs are original compositions, but it’s a testament to the band that they feel as much a part of its relentless mood as the traditional compositions. Lankum have a unique vision that bends everything old and new to its will. It’s clear that the band have a deep respect for the processes in which these songs have found their ways through the centuries and approach them not to tear them apart in the name of progress but to find new routes to undying emotion. Lankum have written their names into the lineage of these songs and started lines of their own.

You’re unlikely to hear anything else in 2023 that sounds even remotely like False Lankum or anything else that will linger so determinedly in your mind.

Released: 24 March 2023
Label: Rough Trade
On Tour: May and December