Over three albums, Derbyshire instrumental trio Haiku Salut have constructed their own sonic universe, with 2018’s There Is No Elsewhere dragging their sound further into glitchy electronica and post rock.
Fourth album, of sorts, The General, sees the Haiku sound inhabiting a world created by others, in this case Buster Keaton’s classic 1926 comedy masterpiece of the same name. Originally commissioned for a live cinematic screening of a remastered version of the movie, this soundtrack album is remarkable in its ability to stand alone without the accompanying imagery.
In fact, The General evokes a wide range of mental imagery, whilst cultivating emotions previously buried, with or without having viewed the film. Of course, anyone who has witnessed the effortless sync of these new sounds with the comedy classic live will state its brilliance, but this album is so much more than a companion piece.
The General represents both an evolution and a reconfiguration of Haiku Salut. Hit with just two months to produce 80 minutes of new music, the trio were forced to adapt.
Gone is the complex web of traditional instruments (accordion, live drums, brass) in favour of electronics, keys and guitar making this their most refined offering to date. This is also their first self-recorded and produced album, done completely in their Derbyshire Dales studio space. Sounding as good as it does, The General marks the start of a new era of creative autonomy for a band already brimming with ideas.
Previously, it is the discarded “traditional” instruments that have supposedly brought the humanity to the music, so their removal could have resulted in a harsher, more austere sound. But even with in these new self-defined limitations they have created a work full of optimism, hope and love, displaying just how good they have become as composers.
This album also marks an evolution of the original tale, with Haiku reframing it through a modern lens. Today, the melancholy of war, of longing and of loss shines through the “comedy” and this music captures it all, alongside the overall triumph of overcoming it all.
This is aural storytelling of the finest order. Where Keaton was a master of conveying meaning without words just expression, here Haiku Salut have mastered this art with sound.
From the opening clatters of "Intro" and the forlorn "Start" the whole tale is laid bare, its sense of movement, its longing and its love. While ambitious and huge in scale, it is the intricate details that makes this really work.
First single "Loves", a simple waltz transformed by otherworldly sounds and pulses, fuelled by echoed guitar, is an ode to the feeling of falling in love, capturing that emotion with real understanding. "Train Steals" oscillating synths put the listener central to a high-speed chase, with a sense of intense momentum.
"Deserters"' sinister glitchtronica stalks the listener, raising a level of paranoia and laying the concept of legging it from a perceived threat. "Traction" is a kinetic, synth-pop composition underpinned by trap beats, and "Reunited"'s post rock drones and forlorn keys float with the sound of contentment.
The trio delve into synthwave on "Obstructions" while "The Crash" could be a banging explosion of sound, but is instead a shimmering ambient, chilled-out track that allows the scene to breath, aurally denoting the debris aftermath of a crash rather than the impact of it.
The 23 tracks, comes to a close with "Finish", a track that takes elements from the whole soundtrack and feeds in downbeat techno to condense the whole story, allowing us to revisit the experience again with fresh ears.
In taking a risk and throwing their all into this album Haiku Salut have created a score that does a cinematic classic justice and an album that joins, not only, their excellent catalogue as an evolution but also the best of emotive electronica being released right now.
Despite its purpose, The General is a warm, intricate experience that can soundtrack whatever you need it to on each listen.