BBC Music Review

February 2012

The Belbury Tales - Belbury Poly

 

Welsh author and mystic Arthur Machen is probably best known for his short story, The Great God Pan. This eerie narrative of abysmal medical experimentation and occult visitations has the scribe relating a series of unnerving happenings taking place at the peripheries of mainstream Victorian society. It becomes apparent that dark forces are scheming, tampering with the lives of mortal men. It’s a typical Machen scenario and a subject taken up by writer Rob Young in the short story that accompanies this, the fourth full-length, from Belbury Poly aka Jim Jupp. The Journeyman’s Tale recounts a standard visit to a village watering hole that ends with the chief protagonist wallowing in the froth of Bacchanalian debauch. Here lies the strange quasi-mystical inter-zone where the veil partitioning the mystical from the everyday is lifted, with Jupp’s music providing a temporary gateway transporting us from one to the other.

For the first time Jupp has enlisted the help of other musicians: the addition of Jim Musgrave (drums) and Christopher Budd (bass and electric guitar) enabling arrangements - an amalgam of electronica, progressive rock and ethnological sounds - more complex than those previously featured on 2009’s astrologically-obsessed From an Ancient Star. These elements are employed during the odd enchantment of Cantalus, a miasma of spooked synth and black mass sighs which comes on like the Tomorrow’s World theme penetrated by an ancient Egyptian hex. This Eastern interference is also prevalent during Goat Foot where the heat-sodden rhythms of the souk are visited upon the rural idyll of the Suffolk coast. More Anglo-centric is Green Grass Grows, where a child’s voice delivers a pagan rhyme with a mixture of menace and wonder over the circuits of a misfiring ZX Spectrum. Imagine a combination of The Incredible String Band and Boards of Canada and you won’t be far off. Elsewhere, Chapel Perilous wigs out on a cosmic Can-like groove, launching cascades of backwards guitar chicanery and tumbling horror tones.

Like the majority of Ghost Box releases, The Belbury Tales is infused with a deep vein of paranoia, a palpable fear, an attempt to reconcile the imminent unknown (evoking a reimagined or never experienced past). But whereas previous albums have alluded to the grim spectre of the Cold War, this time around the spooks appear to be a little closer to home.

Spencer Grady