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The General (Secret Name)

That this album, the fourth from the Derbyshire Dales trio of Sophie and Gemma Barkerwood and Louise Croft, is the modern soundtrack to a rescreening of Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy, The General, is in a sense neither here nor there for us.

The music stands alone, stands aside even, from any thoughts of silent film or silent comedy: not just free of rollicking organ or spritely string section but also of the sense of being for something else, and therefore to be understood only in relation to that. It doesn’t matter if you know the film – where Keaton plays a train engineer in love and in (Civil) war - in other words.

That said, I last watched The General about 15 years ago, my strongest memories being of its humanity, and a cracking scene with a distressed and lost in thought Keaton sitting on some rising/falling wheel rods as the steam engine he’s “driving” powers on without heed. Here was feeling presented openly, and modern technology impervious to human frailties – until the collision of flesh and steel seems inevitable.

In Haiku Salut’s hands both humanity and technology are deployed with equal weight, the frailties of both more noticeable than their power.

Leaning primarily to the electronic side of their work, they project a wholly contemporary mode of movement: smoothly gliding, the pulse persistent, the projection upward rather than merely forward. Movement is a recurring theme, not surprisingly, but it’s not a journey of rattling tracks and jutting-out dangers.

The stuttering in Deserters is on top of the glide, its suggestion of discomfort being in anticipation; the off-beat sensation of The Escape is rooted in its ping-and-pong of overlaid sounds while the momentum seems unhurried. And The Crash carries itself on simplified John Fahey-ish guitar that cushions rather than bring impact.

There’s a sense of humour here too, albeit low key and sometimes with a strain of melancholy in the mould of Keaton, something most noticeable in the subtle shadings of Loves, which feels playful and slightly deceptive in that playfulness simultaneously.

More clearly, Hide, with its flicker of cheesy synth pioneer Popcorn emerging from something mordant; Traction, where it’s a mix of mini-surge and bubbling bonhomie; and Finish, bringing a touch of games arcade sparkle to the album’s closer, play with a smile.

Speaking of arcade, Train Steal has all the knobbly oddness matched with Asimov-dream tone of ‘80s electronica that the soundtrack to Stranger Things so glories in and the palate is more pastel and glitter than black and white. However, while Going Back has similar elements there’s a whisper of something more nuanced under it, a flowing undertow for the busy arms on the water’s surface, which again touches on the characteristics of Keaton’s comedies.

Interestingly, while I’d love to see Keaton’s movie with this accompaniment, there’s at least a couple of “films” projected onto my brain now while I’m listening to Haiku Salut, and that’s a treat on its own.

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