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The Pictish Trail - Secret Soundz vol. 2

The Pictish Trail - Secret Soundz vol. 2

by , 16 January 2013

The Isle of Eigg is a small island in the Scottish Hebrides, squatting quietly below Skye. It has a quartz beach colloquially referred to as the 'singing sands', because of the squeaking noise the dry beach makes underfoot. It has a population of approximately 67, and it is home to Johnny Lynch, undoubtedly the greatest musician ever to record most of his output in his caravan (technically, Sly Stone lives in his car).

Head honcho of Fife-based Fence Records, and friend to both Sweet Baboo and King Creosote (both of whom appear on this album), Lynch – better known as The Pictish Trail – is a close-knit member of the woolly jumper folk brigade. His music, however, is more folk music in the literal sense – music for folks – and is by no means woolly.

Like the first instalment of the Secret Soundz 'series' – Lynch's solo debut, and remains Fence Records' biggest seller – Vol. 2 is a warm, inviting album. Being recorded in near-isolation has suffused it with that all-in-this-together caravan holiday feel, huddled around a glowing electric radiator, huddling together for warmth – as opposed to, say, a Bon Iver-alike emotional distance - which isn't to say it's an entirely happy album. The warmth comes from the cheap-and-cheerful drum machines and synthesisers, adding to that sense of the rainy days inside caravan holiday. The songs themselves are about, in Lynch's own words, "corporeal and psychological isolation... losing loved-ones, and gaining new.. .dangerous drinking, lost-connections, [and] career insecurities."

Ten years into his career, he has a lot to dwell on up on that lonely isle. There's the loss of his mother, covered in the even-more stripped down, self-explanatory 'Wait Until', a throbbing electronic sound like a slowly diminishing heart rate monitor – the "goodbye" of 'It Will Pour Down' is similarly raw. 'Michael Rocket' deals with the aftermath, a dreamy half-life described with a slow, loping organ line and a dully persistent programmed rhythm in the background. On this and other songs in its vein, The Pitctish Trail resembles a Scotch Casiotone for the Painfully alone, the complexity of emotions sung about, in a more delicate fashion than Owen Ashworth's blue-collar burr, counterpointed by the 'basic' instrumentation.

More self-referential is 'Sequels', ambient-sounding but traditionally-structured (well, as traditional as a melodica solo can be), with Lynch debating with himself about the positives and negatives of, for the most part, remaining in obscurity a decade into his recording career, his voice sounding sometimes like it was recorded underwater, his worries and insecurities literally drowning him as he almost resigns himself to "another ten years of shit sequels."

All of this is tied to better to further eponymous instrumental tracks, as was the original Secret Soundz – this time the woozy, brief pieces, barely visible in the half-light, come from the soundtrack to an unreleased kid's film Lynch worked on. They're as integral as they are on the preceding volume, and Secret Soundz vol. 2 is a suitable successor in every way.

Rating: 8.5/10

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