This review originally featured on The Quietus.
When Johnny Lynch announced his departure from Fence Records in 2013 after a decade at the helm, the immediate launch of his new label Lost Map was the next logical step. It was no surprise that this charismatic character wouldn’t be sitting still – taking the artists he had nurtured with him, he embarked on a new journey.
Lynch has been making music in his Pictish Trail guise since the early noughties, whilst heavily involved in the iconic Fence Collective and running its associated label. Future Echoes marks his third full release under this artistic moniker, and clearly takes its inspiration from the upheaval of recent times: his disagreements with Fence boss and former best friend King Creosote feature heavily, as well as family deaths, the worry and wonder of new parenthood and the cyclical nature of life – all set to a twinkling pop backdrop.
Life has changed dramatically for Lynch in the past few years. His mother passed away during the recording of last album, Secret Soundz Volume Two, his long relationship with Kenny Anderson collapsed, he became his own boss and also a father for the first time. Future Echoes is his making sense of all of this, notably the broken ties with KC – album highlights ‘Lion Head’ and ‘Half-Life’ see big choruses and addictive melodies boost thoughts on the destruction of platonic love, of slaying idols and breaking free from the negative effects of others. The last album’s closer ‘Long In The Tooth’ focused on this failing friendship, but on this LP Pictish Trail takes the theme and runs with it.
With Future Echoes Pictish Trail has found his musical forte in iridescent, ethereal pop, with vocals now rightly front and centre. Through electro beats, samples and soaring choruses, Lynch’s voice is consistent, strong and always beautiful. Where, on previous recordings, this has been less of a focus for the songs, drifting in the background dominated by all manner of styles and sounds, Future Echoes is pointedly more thematically linked, and the lyrics are afforded full respect with Lynch’s voice key to all ten tracks.
This record is a space trip through the universe – reflections under the silent, star-filled Hebridean night skies (Lynch has lived on the island of Eigg since 2010), brought to life by Silver Columns collaborator and pal Adem Ilhan, who injects slick London dazzle into The Trail’s inmost musings. Not many artists can ooze fun and glitter whilst mulling the serious issues – loss, death, birth and the repetition of human existence, but here Lynch excels, his writing bigger and bolder than ever.
Opener ‘Far Gone (Don’t Leave)’ was penned for a Coen brothers tribute – a nod to film (and TV show) Fargo with its looped sad string sample and vinyl crackle before a tongue-in-cheek trip-hop beat takes over. And, though death is very much central to the album, its morbidity is coloured with teeming life, the auditory expression of the world spinning in the ether to Casio beats and celestial sounds. Muted is the former lo-fi DIY aesthetic, gone is the pared-back acoustica – smoothed, beefed up and polished to perfection, this album has a more cohesive and confident feel than previous work. And it’s the themes of self-doubt, finality and brushes with the end that power some of its standout tracks – ‘Easy With Either’ is psychedelic excellence, referencing a near-death car crash, whilst the ascending funk-dance bassline of ‘After-Life’ pulls things full circle.
Future Echoes is Johnny Lynch’s vindication – this record shows that from darkness can come light, with the certainty of death there is also the continuation of life. Just as chapters end, so too new stories start. Pictish Trail has stepped out of the shadows of his past, as star in his own right, freed from the weight of what went before and buoyed by what lies ahead.