Without diluting their power or abandoning their gothic intensity, the Dublin group’s fourth album lulls the listener with songs of exquisite softness and deeply affecting harmony
By Jude Rogers
Lankum’s fourth album goes to new extremes, and not simply by dredging more trenches of their trademark gothic intensity. Four years after 2019’s raw-skinned The Livelong Day, with its exploratory epics, False Lankum teems with similar moments of iridescent bliss. But the 12 tracks here also unfurl into each other without a break, alternately lulling the listener then casting them into storms of shuddering sounds.
Recorded in Dublin’s Hellfire Studio by day, while the band spent their nights sleeping in a Martello tower on the coast, False Lankum begins with Radie Peat, the best folk singer of our times, instructing us to Go Dig My Grave. When Peat sings she magically straddles realities, sounding both like an uncompromising everywoman and a mystical instrument of bellows and reeds – a magic she employs to spiritual effect on the beautiful 17th-century ballad Newcastle.
Other tracks, such as Netta Perseus and Clear Away in the Morning (by US folklorist Gordon Bok), underline the band’s incredible facility with harmony. Their version of the latter is as accessible as Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal, full of exquisite softness – at least until their take on Master Crowley’s arrives, a menacing concertina reel that sounds precision-tooled to jar devils awake.
There is so much to revel in here: three instrumental fugues that are more about atmospheric discombobulation than repetition; Cormac Mac Diarmada’s sweet vocal debut on Child ballad Lord Abore and Mary Flynn; their deeply affecting turn through Cyril Tawney’s On a Monday Morning; the way hurdy-gurdies, hammered dulcimers and bowed piano strings create enveloping filmic canvases.
On recent form, Lankum could have become a hardcore drone band very easily, but they’ve done something braver by allowing their gentler sides a bold voice in the mix, while managing not to dilute their power or compromise their ambition. With a 3,300-capacity Roundhouse date later this year, they remain a radical band while making music that is reaching out to the mainstream – while also giving off the thrilling sense that there is so much more to come.