Belbury Poly – From An Ancient Star [Ghost Box, 2009]

Belbury Poly - From an ancient star“Maybe there’s a kind of magic in making models and making model scenery. Imagine this world where a strange group of model railway enthusiasts are also occultists and manipulating reality with these models and bits of scenery.” So sayeth Jim Jupp, co-founder of the excellent British record label Ghost Box and the wizard behind the curtain of Belbury Poly. This mixture of childish whimsy with sinister occult details is a thread that runs through-out the Ghost Box mythos; whose record designs hearken back to ’70s library music and textbooks, and whose websites contain hidden references to Arthur Machen, a Welsh writer who was known for his fantastic and arcane literature.

The music is all analog synths and clunky disco beats, sounding at times like a soundtrack to an old Hammer horror film, or a supernatural video game. It reeks of adventure, of something going on. From the invocation of ‘Belbury Poly Logotone’, which gives it a feel of a radiophonic drama, to ‘The Hidden Door’, it makes you feel as if you are stepping into a mysterious, magickal world. One of the greatest things about the Ghost Box roster is how they are creating their own psychogeography, a complete reality with its own laws and a fully realized aesthetic to support it; complete with texts, a signature graphic design, and an identifiable sonic thumbprint. They invite you into their world, not sinking down into ours.

In another interview, for FACT magazine, Jupp talks about Ghost Box as a kind of “All-at-once place where somehow all of the popular culture from 1958 to 1978 is somehow happening at the same time. I think this is one of the reasons why each release we put out looks like it comes from a particular moment in this period and yet can reference much earlier and later events at the same time.” It may seem like nostalgia, but it is a much more constructive mechanism at work. In imagining an alternative past, we (as listeners) are free to make of the present what we would like it to be.

It is a gift of Jupp, and many of the Ghost Box canon, that they can make such heady theories so listenable. Strong melodies and insistent rhythms abound, and although it may seem cheesy or dated at first, they ask you to come into their world-view, to wipe the foggy lenses of cynicism and feel the childlike wonder alive in the present.

J. Simpson

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