Surviving by word-of-mouth. A risky strategy but one that has successfully kept the tradition of ‘mumming’ – amateur actors dressed up in disguises performing British folk drama in the street – alive since the medieval era. Anonymous production duo The FLK also dress in disguise to blur their identity, their choice of costume being possessed cow-heads on scientist’s bodies – a nightmare one with an over-active imagination might have after witnessing The Village of The Damned.
More importantly, the ambiguous pair spread their music in a similarly controlled word-out-of-mouth fashion to the aforementioned tradition of which they name their album by; Mummers. Absent from many online purchasing stores and streaming services such as Spotify, it takes the persistence of a treasure hunter to investigate their sound but its discovery is worth the weight in gold.
The FLK’s brain skilfully tampers with trip-hop and ambient techno turbulence to create an unpredictable sensory experience, whilst the heart is pumped with the blood of folklore, creating a rewarding folktronica fusion. The FLK do a great service for the folk community, attempting to keep it alive by celebrating the genre’s powerful credentials; it’s Chinese Whisper passing-on of songs, it’s durable pioneers, it’s pinpoint lyrical emotion about grief and even promoting it’s annual events. This is in the case of the Fever Ray-esque dark ambient “Bedlam”, which repetitively documents folklore happenings with eerie brainwashing totalitarianism and tin-can percussion.
“Cuckoo” borrows verses from a song by influential yet relatively unknown Anne Briggs – helping to immortalize her career – that poetically shames the impermanence of relationships “They’ll court you and kiss you and vow they’ll be true and the very next moment they’ll bid you adieu”. The exotic marxophone (also heard stuttering in “The Martyr’s Lament“) lurking beneath the soothing yet sticky arrangement of the IDM beats is reminiscent of the early material of Belgian trip-hoppers Hooverphonic within a contemporary middle-eastern setting.
“Thyme Is Love” follows upon the same theme of untrustworthy lovers but utilizes botanical metaphors such as “thyme” and “red rose” to timidly express purity and lust, respectively. The hissing instrumentation and tablas add to the hiccup warps of the hazardous production creating an appropriately disorientated serpentine.
“Joy of My Heart” combines two folk songs together but again words about sudden transformations; a Gaelic anthem sung by The Fisher Family in the sixties and the first verse of celebrated Irving Berlin’s “I Used To Be Color Blind” – made famous in the movie Carefree by Fred Astaire. Along with “Troubadour“, it features a neo soul choir providing jubilation to the proceedings.
The latter is loosely based on the keys of Martin Carthy’s “Scarborough Fair”, with The FLK changing the chorus to “Sex and Drugs, Religion and Thyme”; supposedly to illustrate the point that Simon & Garfunkel unfairly took complete credit for the lullaby. It’s easy to imagine this motto anarchically spray-painted on walls by The FLK’s cow-headed allegiance to promote libertarianism – think V for Vendetta.
“The Butcher Boys“, “The Plague” and “Martyr’s Lament” are melancholic comments preoccupied with mortality, that approach the subject from divergent angles. “Matryr’s Lament” is an example of a song that has evolved through centuries but is always essentially about a protagonist facing their impending death. A patient 7-minute song that best represents the effective passion of The FLK’s assisting female vocalists and how they can manipulate their voice to fit a specific emotion (sometimes straight-toned, sometimes wavering like Grace Slick).
In this case Lucy Ward’s contemplative depression deserves the praise. Originally written by poet Thomas Nasche in the 16th Century, instead of focusing on individual doom, “The Plague” captures the ubiquitous trait of falling off the mortal coil with the lyric: “Rich men, trust not in wealth. Gold cannot buy you wealth“. However opener “The Butcher Boys” updates this concept by listing famous innovators – from The Ramones to Steve Jobs – that share the same fatality status before insincerely wishing listeners “a nice day”- an artificial modern-day default expression fittingly spoken by a computer.
Start spreading the word of The FLK. The cows ORDERED me to say this. Purchase The FLK’s Mummers album here.
Words by Matt Hobbs