Album Review: Johnny Flynn – Sillion

Johnny Flynn’s long-awaited fourth studio album, Sillion, is a luscious and brooding exploration of the dimensions of what folk can be, tinted with elements of both light and bruised darkness converging across the personal, political, and poetic.

With much of the recording taking place while Flynn starred as an unsettlingly charming psychopath in Martin McDonagh’s ‘Hangmen’, he recognises that ‘there’s probably some of that darkness in the lyrics, and a celebration that you can explore the baseness of human nature.’ In The Deepest and Barleycorn, Flynn’s take on the traditional English folk song of a similar name, erupt with this high drama hinging on more sinister undercurrents – Barleycorn, Flynn explains, “is about the ritualistic killing of Sir John Barleycorn and predates the Christian story of the slaying of Christ”, simmering beneath which is a recording of Alfred Lord Tennyson reading the ‘Charge Of The Light Brigade’.

Moments of greater personal insight and intimacy really shine through on this record. Heart Sunk Sank, recorded on only one of two existing Voice-o-Graph recording booths in the world, fades effortlessly between the historic warp of this wartime technology to glorious modern HD, feeling like the discovery of an ancient love song discovered on a long-lost vinyl. It’s a beautifully ingenious little hidden gem on an album of hugely different shades of feeling.

Ultimately this is a very intelligent and emotionally stirring record which benefits from several repeated listens to really appreciate what is going on underneath. Coincidentally, listening to it in the wake of more horrors on London’s streets and in the wake of weighty political choices, it is a suitably timely and equally measured soundtrack for unstable times.

Kerry Manning