New Music Reviews: Lankum and Amaarae

There’s a lot of stylistic range in these two albums – the dark and droning Irish folk of Lankum, and the vibrant pop of Ghana’s Amaarae. Enjoy!

Lankum

False Lankum

2023, 8.5/10
Lankum started as two brothers playing Irish songs in the pub. They were originally known as Lynched – Lynch is the surname of Ian and Daragh Lynch. Over twenty years they’ve evolved, adding singer Radie Peat and fiddler Cormac Mac Diarmada. They’ve become darker – they cover folk songs, but they owe to metal and avant-garde musicians with their use of drones and dark textures. There are echoes of 1960s English folk – Peat reminds me of Pentangle’s Jacqui McShee, and they’re a little like Fairport Convention at their darkest, as on ‘A Sailor’s Life’.

Their third album ups the ante, with more nuanced arrangements and a darker sound. As before, the group are largely mining traditional material, although there are a couple of originals woven seamlessly into the tracklist. The traditional tunes here are largely obscure – opener ‘Go Dig My Grave’ is the best-known.

The band’s arrangements are inventive, employing instruments like uilleann pipes and mellotron. The opening section of closer ‘The Turn’ reminds me of Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ before it enters its dark conclusion. The band are careful to balance the darker moments with pretty acoustic tunes. The record’s immersive, with nary a weak moment in its seventy minutes.

False Lankum is an impressive achievement, an immersive and ambitious record.


Amaarae

Fountain Baby

2023, 7/10
Amaarae was born in New York to Ghanaian parents. Now based in Ghana, she’s received an amazing amount of critical acclaim for her sophomore album – on the aggregator Metacritic, she’s scored an impressive 95/100 for Fountain Baby, putting it alongside albums by Loretta Lynn and Brian Wilson in the most high-rated in the website’s history.

As you can probably tell from the grade, I’m not as enamoured with Fountain Baby as the professional critics. Musically, it’s dynamic, with short and punchy songs, and a surprisingly wide palette of sounds – it encompasses sophisticated alternative R&B and Afrobeats, while the punk of ‘Sex, Violence, Suicide’ is an unexpected left turn. But the lyrics are often distractingly facile –

Baby, wanna roll with a rude one
Say she want money, get her boobs done

Reckless & Sweet

– a shame when Amaarae’s vocals are pretty and the productions are strong. The most laid-back tracks are often strongest – ‘Big Steppa’ is built around a scratchy guitar. ‘Come Home to God’ starts modestly, but quickly builds into an anthem.

I wish Amaarae could write some more interesting lyrics, but I appreciate the expansive and fast-moving Fountain Baby.

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6 Comments

  1. Go Dig My Grave sounds like an Appalachian song. I’ve heard versions while searching through 60s folk. This sounds haunting…really good.

    • It’s the only song I knew already on this record – I’m certainly not an Irish folk expert but seems like they have some deep knowledge.

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