The first volume of Secret Soundz, released in 2008, was the most successful ever release on Fence – the label run by The Pictish Trail’s Johnny Lynch with fellow Fife quirk-folk artist King Creosote.
Touted as that album’s follow-up, Volume 2 – recorded in a caravan on the Scottish island of Eigg – also successfully works as a standalone for those not familiar with its predecessor.
On it we meet a contemplative, often downbeat Lynch ruminating on life’s ups and downs, frequently honing in on the dark or sad side.
The Handstand Crowd tells of feeling abandoned, of “the party that everyone’s going to (…) And I’m staying home”, while both Wait Until and Long in the Tooth seem to tell of a breaking or broken relationship. Of Course You Exist simply asks, “Can you recall all of the s***? Of course you can.”
Although this might sound like it’s not adding up to a barrel of laughs, what also needs to be factored in – key to the appreciation of The Pictish Trail’s music – is the utterly joyous way in which he makes free with a whole bag of electronic tricks. His unadorned vocal is a tender folk-inflicted instrument, but on much of the album he has chosen to heavily treat it (Secret Sound #6, Sequels, Michael Rocket).
This Maverick Folk Artist From Outer Space sound is reinforced by a regularly found and heavily synthesised backing, deployed judiciously and intelligently on the opening track, where a jaunty Casio beat is underpinned with deeper synthesised bass notes.
It’s there, too, in the muffled pulse of Of Course You Exist and Wait Until. Elsewhere, glorious yet gentle cascades of synths grace I Will Pour It Down and Secret Sound #6.
Other charming quirks, like the subtly going-out-of-tune effect on Sequels, the banjo ‘n’ whistling combo on Secret Sound #7 (reaffirming the album’s folk music grounding) or Michael Rocket’s imprecation to “let the strange times roll” also keep the mood light.
These offer further confirmation that this spirited and life-affirming album succeeds in converting some of the sadder aspects of life into music graced with humour and, indeed, joy.