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Lankum, False Lankum – a review

We couldn't let 2023 end without publishing Gavin McNamara's review of False Lankum, one of the finest albums of the year. Our apologies for the delay.

Cover art for False Lankum, by Lankum, featuring the four members lined up against the wall, with Cormac out front, out of focus.
Release Date
24 March 2023
Lankum - False Lankum
In 2023, Lankum's album False Lankum redefined Irish folk music with its distinctive fusion of heavy drones and Radie Peat's haunting vocals. Produced by John ‘Spud’ Murphy, the album creatively diverges from what one might expect of a traditional folk collection, incorporating a cinematic soundscape while maintaining a deep connection to its roots. 'False Lankum stands as a testament to the genre's evolving dynamism, showcasing Lankum's innovative approach to age-old songs and tunes.

The Irish Folk scene has been lashed by storms this year. There’s the riotous, whirling one generated by The Mary Wallopers, the one that seems to have spilled out of heaven itself, bruising the clouds, thanks to Lisa O’Neil and John Francis Flynn, and then there’s the huge, brooding, malevolent one – the darkly oppressive one that Lankum conjured with their incredible fourth album.

2023 has, indisputably, been Lankum’s year. Piling up accolades like waves on a shore; they were Mercury nominated, awarded Album of the Year by The Guardian, gained multiple ‘Best of 2023’ awards from The Irish Times, won ecstatic reviews for the latest live shows, and there have been countless mentions in the end of year polls. All in all, Radie Peat, brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, and Cormac Mac Diarmada have become the Folk-band-most-likely-to, thanks, largely, to an album that ducks or subverts every genre expectation but retains a savage power.

The sound that they make on False Lankum is an astonishing one. It builds on the heavy drones and rumbling thunder of 2019’s The Livelong Day, creating a vast soundscape which is part battlefield, part rain-lashed ocean. The influence of the likes of Sunn O))) or The Swans are still there, yet it’s the all-consuming world-building of Massive Attack that comes to mind. Not that they sound anything like Bristol’s finest beat-driven hypnotists, of course. It’s just that they share the same DNA, the same determination to make music that sets them apart but weaves them close to their traditions. The same bleakly cinematic vision of a world that is falling apart. If ever there were two bands that could make thrilling music together then Massive Attack and Lankum are those bands – it might not be Folk but it would be mighty.

The person credited for much of Lankum’s current sound is producer, John ‘Spud’ Murphy. He is the one who has ramped up the acoustic drone of the harmonium – always part of the Lankum make-up (even when Lankum were Lynched) – and turned it into a quasi-psychedelic heart-stopper. He is also the one, it seems, that has fully unleashed Lankum’s secret weapon: Radie Peat’s voice – an otherworldly presence, flickering into view like moonlight playing on swirling dust. How often, over the years, has she disappeared from view when playing live, crouching on the floor to play the harmonium? No more. She is now front and centre. She is extraordinary.

On ‘Go Dig My Grave’ [aka The Butcher’s Boy; Roud 409], she starts acapella. Learned from Jean Ritchie’s version, Peat is unnerving, discomforting – the voice that you hear in your nightmares. She is also the one who possesses the key to Lankum’s world. Before long she picks you up and hurls you into the swirling, churning pit of darkness that is being created all around her. There’s an intensity that you simply don’t find on most trad folk albums. It’s closer to Radiohead at their most claustrophobic; Doom Metal at its most tar-pit sludgy. Your breath is squeezed from you as your head spins. 

As much as the experimental nature of the album seeps through almost every track, Lankum seems to use Peat to ground everything. Her concertina on ‘Master Crowley’s’ keeps the two-part reel light on its feet until huge clangs usher in at least one of the circles of hell. She duets beautifully with Cormac Mac Diarmada on ‘Lord Abore and Mary Flynn’, lending echoes of simple folk clubs to their version of ‘Prince Robert’ [Roud 55, Child 87].  On ‘Newcastle’ [Roud 8086] her voice is another instrument, it sits amongst everything else that the brothers Lynch call upon, creaking, ebbing and flowing. In an album that is wave-ravaged and sea-soaked, it is Peat’s voice that keeps us safe.

It seems ridiculous that, while writing this, the columnist from The Times, AN Wilson, has just described those that love folk music, folk singing and folklore as “faddists”. False Lankum proves that, far from a fad, folk music is as vital, as exciting, as inclusive as it has ever been. It’s an album of multiple textures, of endless layers, and one that repays repeated listening. If 2023 has thrown up one classic folk album (and, frankly, it’s been a better year than that) then False Lankum may well be it. 

False Lankum was released on March 24, 2023. It can be ordered via Lankum’s Bandcamp page and any decent record shop.