The Belbury Circle – Outward Journeys

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Ghostbox (label). The misrepresented musical history of a parallel world, via public information films, vintage synthesisers and esoteric sonic references.

Outward Journeys (album) Contemporary nostalgia. Collaboration between Jim Jupp (Belbury Poly; arrangements, notation, invitations and vision) and Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle; analogue sequenced bass, public information bites) with a guest appearance by John Foxx (polymath. Metamatic; vocal and synthesizers).
Idiosyncratic characteristics. Attractive and interesting.

All contributing artists share a re-imagining of the city proposed by psychogeography – the way different places make us think and feel, an aesthetic with its roots in the Dada and Surrealist art movements which explored ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination. The Ghostbox ‘Musique Concrète’ fusion of soundtracks, instrumentation, design and theory combined with sonic and cultural references led the late Mark Fisher to describe them as pioneering “hauntologsts” – re-designers of a retro-future that looks like the past. Or is that the other way round?
Either way, they inhabit a world of ghosts and memories variously abandoned, forgotten or erased by history

John Foxx is one of the ghosts here. Both present and not present throughout the album. His vocal appears unexpectedly first on the aptly titled Forgotten Town, an urban landscape he has walked himself for forty years, mining the streets and the scenes acted out on them. He drifts in spectrally, weaving his own evocative synthlines into Jupp’s rhythms and melodies, so cleverly that You Would Not Know He Was There.
The vocals are perfectly pitched and masterfully woven into the fabric of what is otherwise an album of instrumental soundtracks. Imagined television scores reminiscent of those evolving during the Ghostbox founders’ youth. Among these, John Foxx theme to LWT’s 1980 youth magazine programme 20th Century Box, his own contribution to an evolving genre.

Cloudburst Five invokes Dankworth’s iconic score for Tomorrow’s World. 1981. Michael Rodd and Judith Hann. Raymond Lefevre’s As You Please theme to Pebble Mill At One (no commercial symbols here!)
Transports is one of the album’s standout tracks, and links cleverly into the alternative sounds emerging from the music industry during the same period. Echoes of Depeche Mode and OMD are loudest here. Then Light industry takes Belbury Circle into archive territory similar to that currently occupied by Public Service Broadcasting.
End of Side One.

The ambient recordings that set the scene for Café Kaput tick all these radiophonic boxes, and it is after this melodic, loopy dream sequence that John Foxx times his second appearance. It’s easy to overlook Trees. Many of the city’s busiest streets are populated by trees. Parks are the lungs of the urban environment. Trees see a lot of things during their lifetime, often surviving gentrification more that any other elements. They archive stories. They are living ghosts.
On Departures Int, Brooks and Jupp introduce a guitar, typical of their collaborative aesthetic. It’s just another instrument after all. Like style… Which gives this piece the feeling of both a Holiday programme theme tune and a magazine you might pick up from the lounge in Schipol or Tegel.

And just as every time we meet there’s a leaving, so every outward journey preludes a return. Heading Home is a joyous homage to all involved and all that has gone before, the essential conclusion. The rhythm of a train runs through ithe track, simulating the Trans Europe Express rushing across Magnetic Fields on its way back to Berlin airport. Closing the album like this reflects new thinking and illustrates the construct that the future is perhaps closer now than it has ever been. Popular notions and cultural trends are returning to How We Used To Do Things. In context, the re-birth of vinyl is an obvious example, and that Outward Journeys is also released in cassette format is modestly visionary. Film is cool again. Foxx is a sculptor now, working with his hands and has declared no further use for a Smartphone.

The post-digital future is close at hand. The route is marked on a folded map in that dusty drawer. Discoloured paper. Vaguely damp smell. Scrolling TV screens, slightly out of focus. Cardboard. Low definition. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.

Ask your dad.

8 out of 10.

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