The Scottish Hebrides are often viewed in bucolic terms, seen as a place of escape, of solace, rather than living, breathing communities. It’s a dichotomy Pictish Trail knows all too well – he lives on the Isle of Eigg, a staunchly independent community situated off Scotland’s West Coast, a place of incredible natural beauty but one also focussed on the everyday tasks of living, breathing, and getting by.
‘Island Family’ then isn’t quite the record you would expect. There’s no ‘getting it together in the country, man’ vibes here, with Pictish Trail opting for fractured electronics, abrasive digital tones, and punctured beats. The overall affect is startling, with his surreal sonic palette used on songs that discuss domesticity, shifting familial roles, and the push to survive in a small, sometimes precarious community.
Opening with the title track, the sharply percussive feel is almost like an old-fashioned typewriter, while the slurping synths have an eight-bit quality. It’s all square-wave chaos, and its formidable on first listen – give it time, though, and the song emerges as a complex yet melodic quest for meaning. ‘Natural Successor’ has an 80s strut, while the fuzzed out bass finds Pictish Trail embracing his inner rock god; ‘In The Land Of The Dead’ meanwhile returns the songwriter to his electro-inflections, a palette built on playfully child-like synth tones.
It's not all gleeful, wonk-ridden digitalism, however. ‘Thistle’ has a placid feel, a bubbling, underwater vision, all drifting vocals and palatial chords. ‘Melody Something’ taps back into Pictish Trail’s thirst for melody, for example, a gift that permeates the album’s most brittle moments.
Yet there’s no reason to disregard the project’s electronic thrust. ‘Nuclear Sunflower Swamp’ is gloriously abrasive, ‘Green Mountain’ offers a charge into a realm of broken motherboards, while closer ‘Remote Control’ nabs production elements from Millennial hip-hop.
A singular experience, ‘Island Family’ is unsettling at first, until the listener begins to relax into the world Pictish Trail has prepared. An attempt to discuss familiar experiences in an unfamiliar way, it’s a rewarding, groundbreaking insight into his life, one that retains a playfully experimental edge in the process.
Words: Robin Murray
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