Album Review: Haiku Salut – The Hill, The Light, The Ghost

The term folktronica fills me with a shuddering dread, along with other journalistic word smashes like pronk and metalcore. It really is just meaningless. There are elements of electronic music…not so much folk, unless you want to include the use of natural sounds, but really it does the music a disservice to just pass it off into a lazy genre like that. The best artists have more to them than to be tossed into such limiting classifications, and this band, made up of 3 girls from Derbyshire, definitely have more to their broad palette than the term suggests (see also neo Classical).

Haiku Salut got together in 2010 and have released 3 albums since then, gaining plaudits along the way from the likes of the Guardian, Uncut and Mojo, and featuring on Public Service Broadcasting’s album “Every Valley”. The band is made up of multi instrumentalists Gemma Barkerwood, Sophie Barkerwood and Louise Croft who provide accordion, piano, glockenspiel, trumpet, guitar, ukulele, drums, and melodica mixed in with loops and electronic beats to create wafts of ambient sound which roll like waves on the beach, or mist in a morning valley.

“Wide Awake” fades in with a dawn chorus of birds and held strings with beautiful piano trills, slowly skating over an early morning cloud break. Piano comes to the fore in “Entering” which provides a tinkling repeating tune before a ticking clock slightly off  kilter rhythm joins in. All of this is then replaced by a slowly picked guitar which echoes the tune accompanied by a shimmering sound like hovering bees before building beautifully into a gentle riot. The song was inspired by a visit to a house which had been abandoned and left to rot over many years. recordings were made in an attempt to capture the ghosts and spirit of the place, especially the broken down piano. “We Need These Beams”, being a little too similar, doesn’t quite hold the attention as much, but rather ambiently strolls on, leaving you to drift for a while on its sonic shores. “I Dreamed I Was Awake For A Very Long Time” however holds the attention marvellously and in a parallel universe where songs longer than 3 minutes would be allowed to enter the charts, then I’m sure this would be a hit. It’s got everything…a tune, a breakdown section and a giddy build up. It even has a danceable bass drum!

“How The Day Starts” sounds like the ideal way to start the day – ethereal ambience with no sudden moves and not too much excitement! “All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace” is, I assume, taken from the book of poetry published by Richard Brautigan, in which he imagines a world where ‘the deer pass peacefully past computers as if they were flowers’, where the forests are ‘filled with pines and electronics’. Possibly at the time of writing (1967) it was more of a critique about an industrialised future, but in the hands of Haiku Salut, it appears a more joyous prospect, combining as they do the rich textures of analogue reality with the shimmering bright brittleness of technology, blending field recordings with washes of artificial electrickery.

“Try Again And Again” has a feel of the Eno period before he became fully ambient, very layered and purposeful and measured, with a beautiful chord sequence repeated over a shuffling rhythm with vibe notes rolling away over the hills, and “Trespass”, with its rippling curtain of piano notes gently undulating gracefully, breezily scraping and stretching the surrounding framework whilst children play in the distance, out of sight. The album’s closer is “All Clear”, another delightful piece featuring a reverb drenched guitar picking a descending pattern so light and so subtle and as clear as a shallow pool surrounded by leaves and tiny motes revolving in the sun’s rays, pushed gently by a passing breeze as strings and tinkling piano encircle it and a light pattering of beats see off unwanted guests and blanket you in warmth, enriched and dozy with nectar, like the bees.

So if you were already familiar with their rich body of work then this is another sweet morsel to feast upon and savour, and if you weren’t aware of them before now I would recommend that you dive straight in.

The Hill, The Light, The Ghost is due for release on 27th August via Secret Name Records. Order now on vinyl, CD and digital download via Bandcamp.

Find out more about Haiku Salut, including dates for their upcoming October-November UK tour on their official website.

Review by Andrew Wood

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