Lankum are a group that have undergone several significant incarnations since starting off as a punk act in 2009. Having originally given themselves the moniker Lynched, the group not only changed their name, but left their punk roots behind and established a solid standing for themselves as an act at the forefront of modern Irish folk. With the recent release of their second album Between the Earth and Sky, the Dublin four piece have grown into their own distinct sound that’s charming, traditional and refreshing all in one.
Their debut album Cold Old Fire was released in 2014 and saw them steadily rise to stature in Ireland’s music and festival scene, as well as performing in the UK and Europe. Their latest – and their first with label Rough Trade – Between the Earth and Sky follows a similar formula to their debut, combining both original material and updated folk and traditional tunes. Where Cold Old Fire championed ‘Salonika’ and ‘Daffodil Mulligan’, the ensemble mirror this folk song retelling with ‘What Will We Do When We Have No Money’ and ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ in their new release.
The edgy gumption which Lankum have not shed since their punk era is apparent still in their new music. The original material in this release references political hypocrisy and injustice, just as in their debut. ‘Cold Old Fire’ for example, from their first LP, laments of a crumbling modern Ireland where emigration is ripe along with poverty ‘smouldering on the faces of the people on the drip of isolation’. ‘The Granite Gaze’ is a 2017 follow up of sorts, referencing Ireland’s authority as ‘the mother that eats her own’. The song critiques the Irish state for the increasingly desolate living situations many people and families have fallen under in the post-recession era.
Along with the heavy subject matters of socio-economic downfall and decay dealt with in the album, the Dublin quartet intersperse the record with whimsical and upbeat folk numbers. ‘Sergeant William Bailey’ as the second song on the listing, uplifts the album with its jaunty pace and mood. The song begins with double stop-laden fiddle playing a repetitive hook, joined shortly by Ian Lynch on vocals – “Sergeant William Bailey was a man of high renown, tooral looral looral looral loo”. Guitar eventually accompanies, along with vocal harmonies in the chorus, until an instrumental is led on accordion. It mimics the melody sung by Lynch and leads into the ensemble all playing the melody together on accordion, uileann pipes and fiddle – guitar all the while accompanying.
The rest of the album is filled with songs both traditional and original. A personal highlight is acapella number ‘The Peat Bog Soldiers’ which emphasises Lankum’s ability as an ensemble to create haunting, close vocal harmonies. Perhaps my favourite element to their music is the effectiveness in their ringing harmonies, and this song completely encompasses this quality, which is showcased many times over on the album.
Between the Earth and Sky is an album for anyone who likes Irish folk music done right. While Lankum achieved acclaim with their debut for championing a vocal-centric style of folk, they carry this through with the repertoire on their second album. Not only their exquisite musical ability shines through, but their distinct Dublin charm, anti-establishment roots and stunning mix of old and new music too.