Belbury Poly

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The Willows (2005) , 6.5/10
The Owl's Map (2006), 5.5/10
From an Ancient Star (2009), 6/10
The Belbury Tales (2012), 5.5/10
New Ways Out (2016), 5/10
The Gone Away (2020), 4/10

Belbury Poly, the project of English keyboardist Jim Jupp, debuted with the four-song EP Farmer's Angle (2004), that includes the Todd Rundgren-ian instrumental vignette Farmer's Angle and the new-age synth melody of The Eleventh House.

The Willows (2005) is the mature manifesto of his impressionistic electronica performed on vintage synthesizers, almost a romantic tribute to the prehistory of synth-pop. So much so that the catchy and funny ditty Wildspot sounds like the Tonto's Expanding Head Band and a close relative of Gershon Kingsley's Pop Corn. However, there is enough variety and invention in the album, from the neoclassical church music of Caermaen to the suspended melody of Far Off Things, to sound like an upgrade, not just a plagiarizing, of the originals. Jupp especially excels at subtle mutations: A Thin Place transitions from glitch-ambient to minimalist repetition; Monstroon is born in an alien soundscape but turns into a nostalgic nod to the movie soundtracks of the 1960s; Insect Prospectus juxtaposes tribal drums and ghostly chant before unwinding a suspense-filled collage of ticking of clocks and ends with chamber music driven by a pastoral flute; all the way to the chaotic metamorphoses of The Absolute Elsewhere. Each of these tableaux is carefully architected.

The Owl's Map (2006) indulges in the more conventional melodies and beats of Owls And Flowers and The New Mobility, not to mention the cartoonish autotuned song Your Way Today and the clownish singalong Wetland, all the way to the hymn-like Lord Belbury's Folly, one of his melodic peaks. His wizard skills are better displayed in the playful klezmer and Slavic overtones of Rattler's Hey, in the way he disintegrates and recomposes the medieval dance of Pan's Garden, and in the sampling method that derails the organ-driven psychedelic jam of Scarlet Ceremony.

From an Ancient Star (2009) is another mixed bag of electronic instrumentals. On one hand one gets the trivial atmospheric From an Ancient Star and the pop ballad Model Country. On the other hand, Adventures in a Miniature Landscape, which is a festive Latin-tinged "spaghetti Western" theme with a Bach-ian flute-driven interlude, and A Great Day Out, which is a sort of lively Christmas carol that turns into a reggae march, are the highlights. In between there are amusing demonstrations of his futuristic musichall, from the cartoonish disco novelty The All at Once Club to the bombastic Celtic dance Widdershins, from the android singalong Clockwork Horoscope to the cinematic galloping sequencers of Seed Ships.

The Belbury Tales (2012) was the first album performed by more than himself, thanks to the addition of drummer Jim Musgrave and guitarist Christopher Budd. The style is markedly more oriented towards prog-rock than synth-pop. Chapel Perilous injects an intricate melodic structure into a "motorik" beat, and Earth Lights sounds like a jazz-rock version of Kraftwerk. There is also a stronger element of world-music, from the Middle-eastern Goat Foot to the Latin frenzy of Cantalus, from the melancholy German waltz Unheimlich to the Celtic dance of Summer Round, peaking (at least in terms of energy) with the pounding ethno-funk dance of Now Then. The purely melodic A Pilgram's Path is, in this context, a minor detour.

New Ways Out (2016) opted for a simpler style, veering towards supermarket muzak. Emblematic is the mellow ballad Starhazy. Luckily the funk-metal rave-up Hey Now Here He Comes and especially the children's boogie Playground Gateway keep the listener awake. The nine-minute fantasy The New Harmony attempts a fusion of the soulful mode and of minimalist repetition with a feverish guitar pattern that approaches motorik drumming.

The Gone Away (2020) continued the trent towards a form of ambient electronic instrumental pop muzak. Most of the pieces fall in the middle terrain between the folk dance Fol-de-rol and the new-age calm of They Left on a Morning Like This. They are mostly simple and gentle elegies that lack the creative disturbances and metamorphoses of the early albums.

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