Fresh(ish) harvest from BBO regulars Ghost Box, with a new partnership of Ed MacFarlane and Ed Gibson of Friendly Fires with Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle. What should this aging fanboi expect from this new direction?
The template is set from the first seconds of the introductory title track. Distorted plucking, birdsong, needlescratch, and wavering flute. This is a Ghost Box album.
But! As soon as you settle into your rocking chair for an exploration of a grainy pastoral double-exposure landscape as ‘Black Rain’ starts with its chord washes and bass pulses, the extremely groovy rhythms and bassline kick in, and you’re on your feet. This track comes to you with fuel injection – toes tapping! Then vocals! Perhaps I missed something, but this is a departure from the expected – although expectations are subjective. A great synth phrase follows them up, and ghostly backing vocals keep us dreaming. There’s even a breakdown!? What’s happening? I’ll tell you what. It’s Pastoral Synthpop, in contrast to the paleofuture neon cityscapes usually associated with this style. Neon, but diffused through curling mist over a meadow.
After this cracking opener, waltzing bass wallows, pleading vocals, plucked scrapie guitar, flute trills and synth arpeggios make ‘Don’t Let Me Dream’ a sun-soaked drift down a very British river. Who’s up for a cruise? Then follow a couple of slowies, ‘A Simple Walk’, followed by ‘Daylight’, which starts mellow but gives it some oomph in the chorus. Arms-thrown-wide ecstatic dream chorus, brassy bass synths, naive little xylophone tinkles. This is another corker. Lovely drift-out chorus, one I could happily loop for hours like that one 6ths song about Hawaii.
It wouldn’t be a Ghost Box album with an ode to some bird or other, and ‘Sparrowhawk’ fits perfectly. Soaring, twinkling, watching, swooping, and climbing again with the hint of an acid tweak in its beak. A nice little interstitial, leading nicely into ‘Man and Machine’ and ‘Fluchtwege’. With titles like that, you’d best be channelling Ralf und Florian, or at least Jean-Michel. And they are – a bit.
The former starts a bit like an Oxygene hidden track, with a boppy shuffle/shuffly bop. The vocals bring it over the Channel and into the future / the bridge has some lyrics that are unusually optimistic about our relationship with the technium / and the chorus must be the machine itself, joyfully hooting its agreement with this sweet vision. A personal fave. ‘Fluchtwege’, with it’s arpeggios, chorus of soft voices and guitar licks, is a love song to textures. Rust, snow, dust, light, whispers, touch, the stars align. You half expect an erotic story set among the corn rigs. Echoing electronic textures, pulsing notes, minimal percussion combine in ‘Polymer Dawn’. Vocals blending in with just some phrases, layers build like rays of the sun edging into view.
Starting like a folk circle with picked guitar, tambourine and vibes, ‘First in an Innocent World’ turns into a waltzing electric ode to the new day. A swirling middle with hopeful yet triumphant chords, then simple phrases repeat and fade, as the album draws to a close.
Another classic Ghost Box album. The whole package – sound, imagery, voice, feelings. A couple of filler tracks don’t prevent this being a highlight of the year, and of the year to come. Should have been in the 2016 top thirty. Soz.
As the Crow Flies was and is one my favourite albums of the last five years. Hence, it was without hesitation that From Out Here was pre-ordered from the ever reliable Ghost Box. I did not regret that decision.
With this release, The Advisory Circle has seemingly left the lanes of the crepuscular autumn countryside and moved into the laboratory. Yet the hazy low sun still streams in through the windows, casting shadows from the equipment stacked on the benches. At times the experiments in sound modules, low frequency oscillators and controlled voltages suggest something more cosmic, more inter-planetary. It’s as if the white coated ones are readying some space mission, but aren’t quite sure of the destination or what shape the means to get there will take. However, it is apparent that this undertaking will be a lonely endeavour, caught between solipsism and holism, as earth disappears from view, and haunted by an ever-receding sense of home and vague memories of leaves crunched underfoot and the sting of frost.
The melodies that co-ordinate this album are some of the most stunning you will hear in any form of electronic music (there are too many to mention here, but ‘Vibrations and Waves’ and ‘Winter Hours’ standout).
Jon Brooks is simply a (or possibly the) master of the analogue made achingly, almost painfully, beautiful. Buy it here.
It feels like I’ve been here before… Perhaps it’s my age, but the Belbury Poly’s take on the world seems very familiar, if not entirely right. I couldn’t tell you whether the mostly electronic sounds are authentic – I leave that to my blogging partner – but the sense of place and time are entirely convincing to anyone who soaked up enough TV and film music in the 1970s and early 1980s. Of course at that age you have no idea that this is part of a genre; but I challenge you to listen to something like ‘A Pilgrim’s Path’ and not remember this playing out over the ending to the final episode of a six part series, maybe after one of those Seventies Endings…
The whole thing is strung together in the booklet by a short story by Rob Young, author of the brilliant Electric Eden, which gives the whole thing a convincing home amongst the traditions of lightly-fried English folk. There’s a fantastic interview with Jim Jupp (who is Belbury Poly) here that does an excellent job of exploring this imaginary past and the imaginary village of Belbury.
My enjoyment of listening to this was magnified by the coincidence of tracking down a series of science fiction short story collections by David Hutchinson that I loved in my early teens. Their covers look like the kind of thing the Ghost Box people do so well:
Some of the stories relocate old terrors to the late 1970s and early 1980s, which is why they seem to fit the flutes and electronics of The Poly. So whether you’re a genuine seeker after the earth mysteries or the old straight track, or have a faint memory of watching a programme about a moustachioed psychic detective who drove an MG Midget, this really is your passport to another world. A better one, I think.
You can buy this here:
Album preview here: