Haiku Salut – ‘The General’
Secret Name / SCRTN001LP
Double Gatefold LP
ELECTRONIC SOUND REVIEW SEPTEMBER 2019
However they roll, Haiku Salut can seemingly do no wrong. The Derbyshire trio – Gemma Barkerwood, Sophie Barkerwood and Louise Croft – always manage to conjure something rather magical, whether it’s a whimsical book of haikus (see what they did there?) detailing their experiences of being on tour; their captivating live show, with its how-do-they-do-that? kaleidoscope of vintage lamps flickering in time to the music; or even performing with a robot orchestra.
And then there’s the bewitching nature of the band’s music itself, of course – quirky neoclassical arrangements featuring an array of instruments (piano, trumpet, uke, melodica, etc), punctuated with dubby post-rock and electronic hues, and high on charm.
Influenced by film composers such as Yann Tiersen and Benoît Charest, and with their work often described as “invisible soundtracks”, it was only a matter of time before Haiku Salut took on a movie score of their own. This, their fourth album, is an original 23-track accompaniment to Buster Keaton’s acclaimed 1926 silent comedy classic ‘The General’, commissioned as part of the BFI’s Comedy Genius season. The approach here is much more electronically-inclined than their previous records, but they’ve pulled another gem out of the proverbial top hat.
While it is intended to be performed live alongside the Keaton film, even as a standalone piece it’s a distinguished and potent tour de force, with the various glitches, arpeggiations and overall “loopery and laptoppery” (their words) adding real oomph and edge. Even without Keaton’s cinematic masterpiece as its backdrop, it’s possible to pick out moments of real tension, drama and emotion here, echoing the seminal film’s ebbs and flows, and the themes of war, heartbreak and joy (no spoilers, promise). The tender strains of ‘Loves’, for example, representing Keaton (as protagonist Johnnie Gray) trying to woo his fiancée; ‘Train Steal’, riven with tension and urgency; the resounding boom and clatter of ‘Cannon’; and the trap-like, almost Kraftwerkian surge of ‘Traction’.
Emotive, poignant and genuinely thrilling, ‘The General’ sees Haiku Salut embrace their composerly chops with aplomb and truly surpass themselves.