False Lankum by Lankum

Release date: March 24, 2023
Label: Rough Trade Records

Lankum have been ploughing their particular furrow for over two decades. Formed at the turn of the millennium by brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, alongside Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat, the Poirots among you might have inferred by that catalogue of names that the quartet hail from Ireland, and specifically, its capital Dublin.

If a band of over twenty years being a new name to you seems unfathomable – even if you’re not versed in the contemporary folk scene, as I, by and large, am not – then do not fear. For the first sixteen years of their existence the band went by the name of Lynched, a play on the surname of the two brothers.

In 2016 the band chose to rename to Lankum, in order to avoid the connotations of the band being seen to use the emotive weight behind the barbaric practice of lynching for any sort of gain. Instead, Lankum comes from the title of the folk ballad ‘False Lankum’, as sung by Irish Traveller and traditional folk singer, John Reilly.

One cannot, of course, discount those first sixteen years, but it was with the name change that things started to happen in earnest for the four-piece. The band were signed to Rough Trade Record in 2017 and also nominated for Irish Album of the Year at the RTÉ Choice Music Prize for their debut with the label, Between the Earth and Sky. The following year they were named Best Folk Group at the RTÉ Folk Music Awards, where Radie Peat was also named Best Folk Singer, before returning to the Choice Music Prize in 2019 with their album The Livelong Day, which finally clinched the Best Album award that evaded them first time around.

We come to a sort of full circle with the release of False Lankum in 2023; an album named after the ballad they originally took their new moniker from, still faithfully on Rough Trade, and armed with a new batch of supreme interpretations or rewritings of ancient, old and newer Irish folk songs. At the time of writing, the band are chasing after an Irish Chart #1, hunting down the new Lana Del Rey album, as well as announcing starring performances at Supersonic Festival, selling out the Barbican Festival Hall, and already quickly selling tickets for a huge, special Roundhouse gig in London, just before Christmas.

So, why? Why are Lankum suddenly such hot property? Why are Echoes and Dust covering them? And, forgetting us for one second [how dare you!], why on Earth are a contemporary Irish folk band demanding print space in the Guardian, Independent, among others; what’s more with near-uniform perfect scores and glowing reviews that bear more resemblance to the marketing of a Ponzi scheme than the world-weary criticism to which we have grown accustomed.

Well, the really easy answer to this is that False Lankum is a magnum opus; a supreme musical achievement that anyone at all interested in music should have square on their radar in 2023. It is, quite frankly, an astonishing piece of art; emotive, absorbing, world-spanning, the encapsulation of and mirror to life, work, love, family, friends, death and more.

Those in love with music sometimes can’t help reading reviews, even if their task is to review said album. One of the snappiest lines swirling on top of the crest of the wave is that it is “the OK Computer of modern folk music.” I don’t think anyone who writes about music can deny that is one hell of a line [bravo!], and while I may contest that it’s slightly glib, I wouldn’t disagree whatsoever that this new long-player from the quartet lives up to that supreme compliment. As the saying goes: believe the hype.

This is an album that we will be having conversations about in ten years’ time. And while other records will surely excite me this year (they already have – see Model/Actriz’s Dogsbody), it’s hard to argue that False Lankum is the more likely to resist the ravages of time, the shifting trends of the external scene and the changing seasons of my own taste.


The fact is that while the arrangements are original, some of the instrumentation is pure invention too, and that the performances are out of this world, the vast majority of the music on offer here has already stood the test of time. Lankum are breathing spectacular new life into these half-remembered or long-lost Irish folk tunes. Where a band like Heilung are paying homage to ancestry by taking ancient words, structures and instruments and creating wholly original songs, the Nordic band’s now-famous phrase “amplified history” might be even more apt for this Irish group.

Lankum’s music was characterised by Jude Rogers of the Guardian as “a younger, darker Pogues with more astonishing power” and as “folk influenced by the ambient textures of Sunn O))) and SWANS, plus the sonic intensity of Xylouris White and My Bloody Valentine”. These comments are primarily associated with their previous LP, 2019’s The Livelong Day, and it should be said that False Lankum is a far more stoic, staid, and gentle record. Counteracting that, however, is the fact that it is also their most expansive, emotionally tactile, and purely epic release to date, eclipsing the prior two album’s total runtimes by about fifteen minutes.

Courting those allusions to Anderson, O’Malley, Gira and Jarboe, the band open proceedings with the soon-to-be-iconic ‘Go Dig My Grave’, a nearly nine-minute heart-wrenching, harrowing gut punch. A member of a family of songs largely made up of what are known as ‘floating verses’, the band took that idea one step further by floating a number of versus originally composed as stanzas for various different ballads and amalgamating them into one gloriously dismal funereal-folk-dirge. Lifting lines from the 17th century oral tradition and transmuting them into something so unabashedly contemporary and overwhelming to a modern audience is the first of a litany of ‘hats off’ moments across the record.

‘Go Dig My Grave’ closes its bleak picture before the band indulge in a squalling mix of folk instrumentation and feedback that will make even the most hardened sludge, doom, or drone fan baulk. It’s not just heavy – its emotionally heavy. Clearly, the best bands in those respective scenes manage to instil their music, vocals, and lyrics with deep meaning – I’m not contesting that – but with such rich history and tradition already behind it, the opening to False Lankum feels so immensely, unimpeachably powerful. It feels like a song you were taught to sing during youth, when you were so desperately sad at the loss of a loved one. It almost immediately burrows itself both in your mind and under your skin, worming and working its way to the base of your gut – a song that unsettles to the point of anxiety and despair, but is also like a drug, needling the listener into desiring another immediate hit.

‘Clear Away in the Morning’, a song originally written by Gordon Bok of Camden, Maine, is a welcome respite from the severe weight the opener of False Lankum has already suffused the atmosphere of the listening experience with. It’s no less captivating, though, and is expertly captured. The entire record, in fact, is simply sublime in terms of the execution of the production, with a warmth and glowing full body afforded to every instrument and vocal timbre. The mixing and mastering of the whole of the LP is painstaking in its’ unwavering search for clarity and balance. There are few, if any, moments where it doesn’t do an outstanding, near infallible job.

We then get the first of three fugues. They are all different in their own way, and while there isn’t too much to say on any, they are absolutely necessary in breaking up the listening experience of the record, and their dark and mysterious textures certainly add rather than subtract from the momentum and consistency of the album.

Following the initial fugue, the instrumental ‘Master Crowley’s’ begins – a two-part reel learnt by the band from the county Clare concertina player Noel Hill. It’s a spellbinding piece of music that is an essential part of the False Lankum experience and I have grown to love it, with the dark, disturbing, bass drenched ending the most enthralling to these ears, more accustomed to noise and drone, than traditional folk instrumentation. If there’s one track that I’m sometimes tempted to pass on, it might be this, but as I write this and am listening again, it already feels sacrilege to put into words.

‘Newcastle’ follows, and it did that thing that only the most special songs will ever do. Those rare moments when true magic is invoked. I sang along to a song without having ever heard it. Riddle me that.  But I’d wager we all have experienced this strange spell in our lives before. It doesn’t happen often at all – but it immediately freezes time for a memory often without peer. A gorgeous track that will bring the hardiest of us all to sobbing tears, and searching for a hug, the lyrics once again conjure images of seafaring, of departure, of longing, of hope, loss, and love. It’s unsurprising given the nation or Ireland is an island and has a well-documented history of challenge and strife, both the myriad micro stories of personal lives lived and past, and the macro of a nation that has the most storied of exigent yesterdays.

‘Netta Perseus’ is a song that beguiles and transfixes the listener… Lankum seem to have an unnatural ability to hold their audience in the palm of their hand. There’s a special intimacy to the album – the songs themselves, their delivery, and the way they’ve been recorded has produced a unique chemistry that allows the quartet to perform directly to the individual listener by whatever medium they choose to play the songs. It’s a deeply personal experience; much in the way so many of us describe the way we interact with those most special of albums we love, respect, and admire. It just seems, to me, that the Irish quartet have managed to make this relationship flesh.

Moving from the quiet and reasonably reserved back to Earth song, we transition into the invigorating ‘The New York Trader’. The band have publicly paid tribute to their friend (and “all round legend”) Luke Cheevers online, as well as on the vinyl’s linear notes, who taught them this particular grand tune. It is one of a number of songs, sometimes collectively known as the ‘Jonah Ballads’, which all describe a criminal stowed away on board a ship, and then being detected by a mix of misfortune and supernatural means. The band then chose to blend an American number called ‘Big Black Cat’ into the back end of the track to create a rousing climax, and something wholly original.

‘The New York Trader’ is yet another standout moment from across the epic length of False Lankum. So far, so astonishingly brilliant. If the Irish group can stick a landing, there’s no doubt this is an absolute worldy of a record.

Lankum choose not to do that. Instead, they cast off, and shoot for the stars…

The closing tracks of their third LP as Lankum level up exponentially from the considerably high watermark it was already operating at. Firstly, we are introduced to ‘Lord Abore and Mary Flynn’. Remember what I wrote ecstatically about ‘Newcastle’? Umm, it happened again with this track… A ballad of Scottish origin, but this being the Irish version and only one Lankum claim can be said to have survived in the true sense of the folk tradition. The wonderful back-story to this is almost as gorgeous as the performance from the four-piece and the sumptuous recording. It was a song thought to be technically extinct until the song collector Tom Munnelly happened to hear it in a Dublin pub in 1969, purely by chance, sung by a Jim Kelly. It’s heartrendingly gorgeous. AGAIN.

‘Fugue III’ is the lengthiest of the fugues – a necessary break after the eight-minute emotional powerhouse that had gone before it. It doesn’t quite serve as a tabula rasa, but it allows Lankum’s audience a moment to collect themselves before they dive back into their balladry with ‘On a Monday Morning’. At this point, on the first and many repeated listens, I’m shaking my head at the band’s incredible musical talent, but the lightning-in-a-bottle recording of suffusing the entire record with such emotion. It’s soaked in life, in daily reality. It’s the grandest of folk tradition, of course… But I personally have never encountered it delivered to this glorious level of quality, live and definitely not on record.

Another track learnt from fellow musicians, this time from Beanie Entwistle of the Manchester-based band Sallows, it is another addition to the litany of achievements their seems to effortlessly possess, with hammered dulcimers and bowed piano strings create enveloping filmic canvases, while hurdy-gurdies offer the characteristic folk twang, while adding the patina upon patina acoustic amelioration of their uncanny craft.

False Lankum closes with the epic thirteen-minute ‘The Turn’. If deeply affecting harmony has been the determining factor across the entirety of the record, rather than the heavier elements Lankum had started to become known for, it is surely captured best on the lilting, poignant, profoundly touching final track. Words for this expansive, triumphant close are difficult to put on after the other, in order to convey the crowning achievement, it truly is. The quartet allow it to fade away, left surveying their supreme work.

One never wants to call something career defining, because that sets whatever new project that may come on the horizon up for a fall… But it’s impossible, at this moment in time, to not dub False Lankum as exactly that, replete as it is with manipulated and marbled Gustave Doré artwork and gorgeous packaging to boot courtesy of the label. If they can produce their own Kid A afterwards, then it won’t only be musos cooing over the contemporary Irish folk band. They’ll be known worldwide – ubiquitously.

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