Pictish Trail’s new album Island Family is an utter joy from start to finish. It’s a pop-psych-folk-pastoral-punk whirlwind of tunes, sounds and head-tingling production. It’s dense with ideas but light as carbonated hugs, and it’s hard to imagine it all comes tumbling out of one man: Johnny Lynch.
That density of ideas is perfectly on display in the titular opening track which starts with tufts of drum machine before expanding into what feels like a tribal dance, with psychedelic pauses to stare up at the stars, before the pounding drumbeat carries you on to into a dance frenzy. ‘Natural Successor’ is a primal scream into the storm, as demonstrated in the video (below). On ‘The River It Runs Inside Of Me’ Lynch shows his command of the crunchy pulses and hisses of electronics with his lush harmonies and the fact that he’s happy to slow a song right down like the Beatles-like strings halfway through. It also holds the phrase ‘dynamic equilibrium’ which pretty much sums up the album.
Each song opens up another cornucopia of sounds: the pop sensibilities of ‘In The Land Of The Dead’, the low lows and stratospheric highs of ‘It Came Back’, full of thrumming urgency, the electronic fever dream clashing with a hailstorm of distortion on ‘Thistle’, the exultant pop of ‘Melody Something’, the bubbling mud of ‘Nuclear Sunflower Swamp’ with its killer drum line (echoing the tribal dance of ‘Island Family’), the clanging giant-having-a-tantrum of ‘Green Mountain’ which sounds like a rave in a steelworks and final track, ‘Remote Control’, which sends us off on a glam-pop celebration of communicating with others via screens which is the kind of music you could imagine Marc Bolan making now if he was still alive.
There is so much love for Johnny Lynch amongst fans, musicians and radio stations, and with good reason. As well as making some of lushest music around he also runs the Lost Map Records label which does so much to support musicians through the Visitations series of EPs and the albums he puts out by acts such as Bas Jan, Alexia Avina, Firestations, Rozi Plain, and Ed Dowie (although this album is released through Fire Records). He also hosts an annual show on the island he has made his home, the remote Hebridean island of Eigg, although he says: “I’ve never been much inclined to write songs about nature, or about any specific geographical or environmental aspects of island life, I always find that sort of thing a bit too earnest, to the point of being insincere. Okay, if I’m being honest, I’m just not that much of an outdoors person.”
The music of Pictish Trail sounds right at home from the Lochs to London and Johnny Lynch is a man who can happily mix lo-fi with high end, 8-bit with complex programming and can cook up a joyful stew of psychedelia, glam pop, and dance rhythms. All of this with the kind of keen attention to detail in his production that can tickle both the ears and the brain. It’s a kaleidoscope of sounds that crackle with life, uplift the soul and make you want to throw your arms open wide and hug this rambunctious Glamoursaurus Rex of an album.
See Pictish Trail live:
SUN, MAR 27 @ THE HOPE & RUIN, BRIGHTON, UK^
TUE, MAR 29 @ BODEGA, NOTTINGHAM, UK^
WED, MAR 30 @ TRADES CLUB, HEBDEN BRIDGE, UK^
THU, MAR 31 @ CLUNY, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UK^
FRI, APR 1 @ GULLIVERS, MANCHESTER, UK^
SAT, APR 2 @ ST MARY’S CREATIVE SPACE, CHESTER, UK^
SUN, APR 3 @ BRUDENELL SOCIAL CLUB, LEEDS, UK^
THU, APR 7 @ SUMMERHALL, EDINBURGH, UK^
FRI, APR 8 @ BEAT GENERATOR, DUNDEE, UK^
SAT, APR 9 @ THE LEMON TREE, ABERDEEN, UK^
SUN, APR 10 @ THE TOLBOOTH, STIRLING, UK^
FRI, JUN 3, 2022 @ JUNCTION 1, GLASGOW, UK (SUPPORTING HOT CHIP)
^ = Supported by Savage Mansion
Review by Paul F Cook