The works of Jim Jupp, and in particular Belbury Poly, carry with them a sense of storybook wonder. The Ghostbox founder’s flagship band has quite often traded in a style that straddles the worlds of psychedelia, library music, jazz, and prog. Without an outright proclamation, the pieces in the catalog of Belbury Poly have often felt like soundtracks to imaginary films that delve deep into the lysergic ‘60s. The last outing, The Gone Away, found Jupp again walking through the wilds of prog-laced fantasy, feeling as much like the soundtrack to an Omni documentary as it did to a ‘70s sci-fi epic. This time around, rather than let the story seep through the seams untended, it’s the story that leads the way. In conversation with American poet Justin Hopper, he birthed the idea of an album threaded with narration, telling the tale of an American academic unravelling while adrift in an alienating English landscape.
That idea became the seed for The Path. We’re set on the road to madness as it unfolds around the loping bass and silken flutes. Twined between the synths’ cascades, the calming tones of Hopper’s delivery leads us down a road that seems to close in behind the listener, a path that can’t quite be retraced for fear of being lost forever. It captures the feeling of a BBC or PBS series marooned between the vertical hold and the ultraviolet variances in the ionosphere. The ‘70s held a penchant for programming that found footing in a certain pagan darkness, the poisoned underside of the ‘60s’ natural reclamation, and Belbury have tapped into that well on The Path. The album passes behind the idyllic draperies of winding trails and quaint rock crossings to plumb the cavernous depths of madness that lie just beneath the surface.
The record was built in tandem with Hopper’s narration, rather than one accompanying the other, and the approach intensifies the impact of Hopper’s tale. Jupp continues the collaborative nature of the opus by opening the doors of Belbury to a wider array of players than ever before. The outfit has never been completely solitary, John Foxx and Cate Brooks are known to crop up among the catalog, but here, along with Christopher Budd, Jesse Chandler (Midlake, Mercury Rev & Pneumatic Tubes) and Max Saidi, Belbury becomes a living organism exploring The Path together. The resulting album lays seamlessly into Belbury Poly’s catalog, an extension of the mythology that’s always been bubbling beneath. The Path is as close to magical realism as the band has ever come, and it succeeds in letting the tapestry of wonders, weirdness, and woe flicker behind the closed lids of the listener.
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