The Livelong Day (Rough Trade/Remote Control)
The cleverest trick this devilishly good Irish band pulled off was making a folk record steeped in traditions and convincing you it’s a very modern record.
It’s not such a trick really: this is a very modern record. And a powerfully vulnerable and open one.
Built around the kind of drone which sits at the root of Arabic, African, American and European folk, but is also in the undercurrent of western art and even psychedelic music, these songs straddle timezones as much as history.
Those resonating subcurrents in harmoniums, pipes, wheezing concertinas and fiddles - sometimes as hums; sometimes nagging throbs - can be beautiful and disturbing, and often as not, both. Play some of the examples here as hard-eyed guitars and/or synths and you’d easily conjure the slow, quasi-metal surfaces of bands like Nadja or Sun O))), or both Oren Ambarchi’s more uncompromising turns and the noisier end of shoegaze
Over the top of these drones come thoughtful, questioning takes on mostly traditional material offered for consideration as new and reframed, Lankum unafraid to open the album with something as known as The Wild Rover or later go all the way with something as deeply mined as Katie Cruel.
Both of those tracks show the boldness of Radie Peat, Daragh and Ian Lynch, and Cormac Dermody on their third album (second since changing their name from Lynched). Long, at 10 and 9 minutes respectively, and slowed down to the edge of funereal, both songs emphasise the unsettling core of their stories.
In Katie Cruel, Peat’s voice has both the close-to-the-skin tone and the needle-point cut of a violin, her invocation of resignation, pain and defiance masterful, all while there’s a rising tide of what might in another context be the low skimming helicopters of any Vietnam movie. It doesn’t end in peace but in abandonment.
During The Wild Rover, Daragh Lynch’s resonant, drone-like contrast to Peat, shades what is no longer a drinking song – as we might have first heard it – but now a post-drinking, deep melancholia of scraped strings and scratched out soil. This doesn’t hurt as much as Katie Cruel but its edges are sharp.
The Wild Rover in some ways has its even darker sibling in the instrumental The Pride Of Petravore, that begins with the approaching march of brutish low strings joined by the flightiness of the uillean pipes, teases on the edge of discordance, and resolves with a calculated insubordination that throws everything at the wall.
As good as the rebuilding of these familiars are, the balance achieved by Lankum in the two originals, The Young People and Hunting The Wren, shouldn’t be underestimated.
The Young People, which is as much a child of mid ‘70s Eno as the mid ‘60s folk revival, and as connected to the electro/folk of Tunng as it to Planxty, hovers between density and brightness, between curiosity and acceptance. The low-lying melody and subdued drone play within the same narrow band as the lead voice, and the gathering storm suggested in the final few minutes never actually hits; the air brittle rather than thunderous. Very cleverly done.
Hunting The Wren enters with the drag of a chain gang and the weight of a murder ballad, a song that feels as if it explains/reflects a Brexit landscape as much as it explores the rippling effects of suicide and lonely distress. There’s more to lines such as “when the young people dance they do not dance forever/It is written in sand with the softest of feathers" than merely hurt.
It’s a closing song that confirms what was clear not that far into The Livelong Day, that Lankum are making timely, compelling music of high quality.