Posts Tagged ‘Belbury Poly’

Favorite Albums of 2020

Here’s the year end list. I’m not gonna wax on about how this year was rough, we all know it was a shit year and even more so for artists. It was, however, a great year for recorded music, and I had a hard time not making this list about twice as long to show love for all the albums that lifted me this year. I’ve long been against the whole idea of numbered lists, so once again things are presented in quasi-alphabetical style (I always mess one or two up in creating this, but you get the point). I’ve included Bandcamp embeds where they exist, so if you have the means and find something new, please reach out and support the artists here. Looking forward to 2021 as another year that music makes getting through easier.

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Jim Jupp on Caravan – The Land of Grey and Pink

One of the more consistent labels that’s popped up around RSTB over the years has been UK house Ghost Box. The label’s approach to gorgeously layered psychedelic electronic combined with a design sense driven by the legendary Julian House makes each new entry an essential piece of a larger puzzle. The label is headed by Jim Jupp, but he’s not only the driving force behind the label, he’s also one of their stable of artists. Combining a whimsical nostalgia with deep synth atmospherics, he crops up in the guise of The Belbury Poly and The Belbury Circle. Jim’s definitely the kind of deep shelf record listener that the Hidden Gems series was made for, so I couldn’t resist asking for a pick when the latest Belbury Poly album came ‘round this year. He’s landed on a key Canterbury prog classic from Caravan — the expansive The Land of Grey and Pink. Check out how this album came into his life and the impact it’s made.

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Belbury Poly

On his last album, New Ways Out, Jim Jupp took Belbury in a less fantastical direction. ‘80s vapors crept into the cabin and the album began to imagine cinematic reaches and glossy magazine cover shoots. There was a surreal undercurrent (it is Belbury, how could there not be), but for the most part it was an album that embraced something more upbeat. It was modern life looking to imitate nostalgia and doing the feeling well. But those who’ve traveled through the Polyverse in the past know that Jupp’s world isn’t just synthscapes looking to give a backdrop to adverts that are looking for the rosy glow of the ‘70s in the rearview. Enter the next chapter, The Gone Away. The record returns to some sort of imagined captive kingdom that’s lodged somewhere between fever dream and coma nightmare.

The synths lay out a queasy backdrop of bewildered travelers grappling with being dropped into danger and unpredictable surroundings. While so many rely on a barrage of effects to initiate the psychedelic storm, Belbury has always succeeded in simply creating an unfiltered sound that simply feels like the floor being pulled from underneath you, like the sight of an extra moon on the horizon, or like encountering fauna in colors that defy human comprehension. While so many countless contemporaries armed with synths keep trying (and largely failing) to recreate the exploratory fear of ‘70s horror cinema, Jupp’s gone ahead and begun world building in sound, and the results are beguiling, disorienting, admittedly terrifying in their own way. The Gone Away is pocked with wonder, sadness, fear, and confusion, but as only Jupp can conjure the pieces fit together into a half remembered narrative that’s crawling through the subconscious and leaving iridescent footprints in is wake.

Naturally, as a Ghost Box release, this also benefits from the incredible art direction and design of Julian House, who remains as incredible as ever. Somehow Ghost Box seems to elude the larger review outlets, and that’s always been a shame, each release remains and essential piece of a puzzle that’s been doled out over decades. Perhaps one day the puzzle box will open. Until then. I’m going to keep listening.



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The Belbury Circle

With the zeitgeist in full swing and America and the world at large back in the throes of their favorite horror-synth duo and the TV show they rode in on, it’s good to remember that the sound underwent a ton of iterations before this point. It’s also enjoyed a few revivals in the last few years, with high water marks from Outer Space, Emeralds, OPN and Pye Corner Audio picking up the Goblin/John Carpenter reigns well before Dixon and Stein found their calling. Add to that list The Belbury Circle, the duo of Ghost Box honcho Jim Jupp and The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks. The pair have followed up an excellent synth-mining EP (that featured the legendary John Foxx) with an equally adept full-length. The duo proves that there’s still more inspiration left in the well and show the youths how to make the most of your influences.

Both have explored moments of uneasy nostalgia in the past, though their mainstays, The Belbury Poly and The Advisory Circle, spend a lot more time in the hypnogogic light-end of the spectrum than the anxious depths they plumb here. Outward Journeys is taken from the school of synth that populated Italian Library issues, crafting sweeping scores that aren’t just rooted in the nail-bitten horror end of the spectrum. Instead they manage a bittersweet ache that’s punching holes in nostalgia’s preciousness. Both halves credit television scores as the impetus to pick up synths in the first place and the album is a clear love letter to their memories of an evolving medium.

Then there’s the kicker – two more collaborations here with synth legend and Ultravoxx frontman John Foxx. The one-off collab from the EP seemed like a stroke of luck, an impossible scenario that wouldn’t be repeated. He returns, however, to hand down lessons in how to get the most out of synth-pop’s brooding atmospheres. In just two turns at the mic, Foxx outpaces the whole lot of synth-pop imitators hoping to grasp at the thread of ’80s pop permanence. The record’s soundtrack feel, prime guest spot and packaging tie-in (Julian House design as always with Ghost Box) make this one a key 2017 release and a reminder that there’s no need to settle for average synth.


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Belbury Poly

Ah hell, has it really been four years already since the last Belbury Poly album? Feels like just yesterday. Since the music is crystallized in an amber gloss of ’60s Chyron clean, ’70s motorik burble and the vacuum glow of library music in any era before 1985, its always irrelevant what year it actually came out. Jim Jupp knows his playbook and he’s updating it a bit here with a skew that’s pushing further into the ’70s than he has on past records. There’s still plenty about Belbury that feels like its soundtracking ads for Danish Modern furniture and walks along the PanAm concourse, but now its starting to let in a few 70’s wide lapels in the foreground. There’s a hint of California palm fronds and rum in the air. The cars are more muscular and the love a little less free. Belbury has definitely crested its way out of the ’60s but its still got a lot of hangover from the influences that Jupp holds near and dear.

Still, it doesn’t matter quite which decades he straddles, the crux of Belbury is that intangible nostalgia. The tip-of-the-tongue feeling that you’ve been here before but never in quite this capacity. In that respect New Ways Out is hitting its mark squarely. It still feels like a wave of calming familiarity that echoes times when life wasn’t better, it was all just portrayed that way on TV. Things definitely click around a stylistic corner with the opening kick of “Hey Now Here He Comes” stapling a bit of glam to the swirling keys, sounding like bed music from an era intoxicated by The Bay City Rollers if Ennio Morricone was behind their decks. Its not a permanent shift though, and in no time Jupp’s back to finding the softer side of your memories and flooding them with a candied candle of children’s television interstitials and the saccharine glue of guided meditation seminars. In short, its everything that could ever be wanted from a Belbury Poly record, swirling in faded colors and star-wiping its way into your heart.


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