Being just shy of 1 hour 20 minutes there's a lot to take in but you are richly rewarded with repeated listens
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Perhaps best known for their stunning lamp shows, as well as a lamp-themed collaboration with Public Service Broadcasting, Derbyshire-based multi-instrumentalist instrumental trio Haiku Salut have been making music together for almost a decade now. Utilising an array of traditional instrumentation that has included accordions, trumpets, a glockenspiel, acoustic guitars and drums alongside various electronic elements, their focus has shifted more heavily towards the “loopery and laptopery” side of things with each new release.
Album number four continues their sonic evolution from folktronica to glitchy, electronic post-rock and beyond. Only this time, they’ve decided to try their hand at creating a film score for the re-issue of Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent action-comedy classic The General. Commissioned by Nottingham Contemporary art centre as part of the British Film Industry’s Comedy Genius season, it’s an ambitious move but one which feels totally natural as their music has often had a cinematic feel to it. From the old-worldly sound of their debut Tricolore, to the dreamy electronics found on There Is No Elsewhere, their music has always conjured up some pretty vivid imagery.
Written, recorded and produced in their own studio at the edge of the Peak District in just two months, its twenty-three tracks clock in at 80 minutes, with each piece ranging from between 25 seconds to 6 minutes in length. Packed with subtle musical detail, The General blends together ambient textures, piano pieces and synth melodies with glitchy electronics and minimalist percussion, while also adding industrial and techno influences into the mix. The end result is something that is both deeply enchanting and very heart warming, but can also be somewhat cold and haunting in places.
After a glitchy double opener with ‘Start’ and ‘Intro’, the warmth of lead track ‘Loves’ slowly waltzes into view. At just over three minutes, it’s arguably the most gorgeous piece here (although there’s plenty of competition). But the warmth doesn’t last as ‘Enlist’, which conveys the main character Johnny Gray’s sadness at failing to make the cut with the Confederate Army, enters with its recurring piano melody and cold ambience lurking in the background. Accompanying a chase scene, ‘Train Steal’ is more upbeat and echoes Tangerine Dream with its rhythmic synth pattern before gradually giving way to electronic percussion.
‘Deserters’ and ‘Cannon’ sees them breaking some new ground, both of which have an industrial techno feel to them. The former is more low key with its soft percussion, with the latter opting for something much heavier and echoey. Elsewhere, ‘Traction’ blends both old and new Haiku Salut, featuring an accordion alongside a stuttering, trap-style beat. While the shimmering yet ghostly ‘Chopping Wood Arrive’ is strongly reminiscent of the ambient drone and tape music experimentations of the wonderful Ian William Craig.
The influence of post-rock could be heard in places on their last album There Is No Elsewhere and it features again here. Running through pieces such as the slow building, piano-led ‘Reunited’, as well as ‘The Flood’ with its stuttering percussion and the playful synth line that comes in and out. Being just shy of 1 hour 20 minutes there’s a lot to take in but you are richly rewarded with repeated listens.
And although it isn’t essential to enjoy the album, it’s highly recommended that you play the score and the film simultaneously at least once. Given that the film is freely available on YouTube, you might as well. Or better yet, catch them performing The Generallive alongside the film at one of a handful of dates which includes at the Royal Albert Hall’s Festival of Film in October.