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Belbury Poly - The Belbury Tales

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Artist: Belbury Poly

Album: The Belbury Tales

Label: Ghost Box

Review date: Apr. 26, 2012

The essential Britishness of the Ghost Box label gets even more essentially British on cofounder Jim Jupp’s The Belbury Tales. It’s ambitious and suitably cheeky to call to mind both Chaucer and the fucked whimsy-prog of the Canterbury scene, but then spinning off false memories from the reserve of common knowledge is what Ghost Box has always reliably done. Facing the peripheral head on, GB has put the Wicker Man soundtrack, library music, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and the term “hauntology” into many music fans’ lexicons over the past eight years with the help of some heavy-duty critical support.

The Belbury Tales is at once familiar in its intentions — teasing out the machine-mystical undercurrent hiding in plain sight of childhood — and fresh in approach, with Jupp enlisting the help of Jim Musgrave on drums and Christopher Budd on bass and electric guitar. It gives the tracks, especially the instrumental ones, the heft and groove you’d expect, but it also adds a dimensionality and suppleness that was notably lacking on his last record, the clockwork kosmische showcase From an Ancient Star. By adding depth and adaptability rather than languishing in the lo-fi and mysterious-seeming production values of his favorite TV soundtracks, Jupp holds one’s attention even as he flirts with rocking on “Chapel Perilous” or, conversely, steps back to solo mode with the rinky-dink miniature “Now Then,” letting the weirdness seep in after brief, clear intros.

But Jupp really hits his stride on the vocal tracks. “Green Grass Grows” would be a jaunty instrumental but for the singing of a young British girl, feral under a scrim of civilized restraint that circles and eyes you with sacrificial intent. Better still is “My Hands,” sung by a gorgeous, tremulous female voice sporting the kind of depraved composure I’d ascribe to an Aleister Crowley follower: “You are the marrow of thought / The climax of reality.” FRESH. “The Geography” arrays a field recording — distant voice embellishing a folk song in sumptuous, warbling finery, and when the male counterpoint voice comes in, it’s like a sweater vest of the mind.

The Belbury Tales can be a potent experience at the high points I’ve just described, but it spends some time at lower altitudes, too, without ever unambiguously erring. I find the introductions of “A Pilgrim’s Path” and “Goat Foot” — confidently arranged trio showcases — almost too obvious, although it doesn’t take Jupp & Co. long to right themselves with an off-kilter addition, a more interestingly turned melody, something that makes it sound more aggressively theirs. But then, banality plays a central role in Ghost Box’s beloved library music, so I can’t fault Jupp for dipping into the nondescript.

By Brandon Bussolini

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