Lankum: The Livelong Day review | Jude Rogers's folk album of the month

(Rough Trade)
Folk standards get extreme makeovers on the Dublin four-piece’s latest, cementing their place at the forefront of the form

Imagine a folk album influenced by the ambient textures of Sunn O))) and Swans, plus the sonic intensity of Xylouris White and My Bloody Valentine. Ever since their first recordings as four-piece Lynched, in 2014, Lankum have been subjecting their songs to increasingly extreme treatments in dynamics, arrangements and length. (Warning: The Livelong Day clocks in at 57 minutes, despite having only eight tracks). Uilleann pipes, concertina and harmoniums drone terrifyingly, sounding drained of their souls. Vocal harmonies evoke the witchy barrenness of Portishead’s Third. But don’t run away screaming just yet.

Lankum: The Livelong Day album art work

How Lankum redirect well-known folk songs is worth staying for. Take their version of The Wild Rover, AKA Ireland’s most rousing drinking ditty, in the hands of the Pogues and the Dubliners. Here, it begins with scraped strings rising in tone like the wail of an air-raid siren. Then Radie Peat’s bloodied delivery (cut from raggedy velvet, like Lal Waterson) uproots the narrative of jolly men roaming the land. A last verse, spliced in from the song’s earliest 17th-century version, full of poverty-stricken regret, also fundamentally changes its tone.

Such overturning continues elsewhere. Katie Cruel loses Karen Dalton’s finger-picking and gains a thunderous sadness. Ode to Lullaby slows down two American old-time fiddle tunes, and fills the spaces with sounds evoking ship’s dying horns and waves lapping over bones. There are some lighter sonic moments: Bear Creek dances, and The Young People has a sweet, rolling tune, although Daragh Lynch’s lyrics are as devastating as anything here. (“Found them swinging / Four long years ago,” he begins. “His tongue was tasting the morning.”) Finale Hunting the Wren is also a gorgeous, involving and immersive original, exploring the lives of women living in nest-like shelters in Victorian County Kildare. Nothing less than a thorough exploration and devastation of folk’s most conventional tropes is Lankum’s impressive game.
• The Livelong Day is released on Rough Trade on 25 October.

Also out this month

Bird in the Belly’s Neighbours and Sisters (GF*M Records) is a gentler cousin to The Livelong Day’s clanging bell. Laura Ward’s lovely voice sweetens the wilfully jagged edges of fellow singer Ben Webb, as they direct songs about executions, workhouse whistleblowers and traumatised soldiers to the heart not the gut. Toby Hay’s New Music for the 12 String Guitar (The state51 Conspiracy) showcases the Welsh instrumentalist’s glowing, intricate style, while a 1949 Epiphone Triumph guitar, bought from a taxi driver, powers Jim Moray’s surprisingly simple, warm and unfettered The Outlander (self-released).

Contributor

Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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