There Is No Elsewhere by Haiku SalutRelease date: September 7, 2018
Label: PRAH Recordings
It’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised isn’t it? I was mildly surprised to learn Haiku Salut‘s debut was only five years ago. It seems so much longer, but then I’ve not been paying close attention. I seldom do to be honest. As a result I fear I’ve rather underestimated them as well, pinning them as enjoyable enough but rather slight and a little twee. As if the mice on the mouse organ had a fever dream about making a Four Tet record. I am pleasantly surprised then, delighted even, to tell you There Is No Elsewhere takes their unique blend of neo classical, electronica and post rock moves to new heights and broader horizons. It’s both more ambitious and more accomplished, a quietly astonishing record destined for discerning end of year lists.
They don’t waste time either, the gorgeous opener ‘Cold To Crack The Stones’ is one of two tracks that feature the Glastonbury Brass Band breathing an extra glowing layer of warmth and space into things. After a couple of minutes of electronic sketching, what they prefer to call ‘loopery and laptoppery’, the brass comes in like the sun burning the mist off the hillside. It’s followed by some surprisingly tough beats over which the brass returns to wonderful effect. The second track on which they feature ‘The More and Moreness’ unrolls around you as naturally and beautifully as the landscape on a drive through the mountains. The whole album is richly evocative of landscape generally but also teems with intimations of history and science, culture and community. The stark combination of the title and artwork is perhaps more direct than the music as to their inspirations. Looking like an old geography text book, it features a ruined black and white landscape over which an octagonal lens floats revealing it in lush colour and verdant good health. If there is no elsewhere then we better take care of the places in which we are embedded and try and get along with one another.
Their unique blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation has always been their greatest charm, the ‘three mute girls’ and their sonic idioglossia. It’s also part of what made them seem insular, tinkering with odd instruments in their bedrooms for each other’s amusement. This new record finds them in greater command of their tools, refining their process and turning out to face the world. The impressive ‘Choke Point’ opens with a minimal piano figure but blossoms into the full range of colours and textures of their sound. On ‘We Are All Matter’ a sharp melodic call sign repeats over what sounds like the serendipitous skipping of a techno CD, slowly edging forwards and making a new sense of its jagged loops. ‘Nettles’ is even more robust and insistent, giving the lie to any lingering suspicion of Haiku Salut as some sort of twee, Cath Kidston, pastoral.
Not that they’ve gone all big and sleek and shiny or anything, there’s still something hand made and intimate about them, something very British somehow about their sound. Calling it polite gives the wrong impression but they have the good manners to credit the listener with the taste and discernment necessary to appreciate its subtleties, never resorting to vulgar showboating. ‘I Am Who I Remind You Of’ is a remarkable highpoint, a seven minute exploration of the breadth of their vision and the lightness of their touch. Beginning with a mechanical glitching rhythm and looping synth it features softly sighing wordless vocals, a melancholic edge of memory coda. Accordion and glockenspiel dance prettily around when, without fanfare, a deep bass wobble rolls up beneath a gentle melodica line. It’s come and gone before you can think “hang on, did they just go reggae there?”
The closing ‘Shadows’ is as soft and delicate as snow with a little of Aphex Twin’s more twinkling moments about it. Flurries of notes that make you hold your breath to catch them, it’s almost too sweet for its own good, but not quite. Once again their poise and restraint helps them carry it off.
There Is No Elsewhere is an absolute delight, elegant and experimental but wrapped in a warm, unfailing melodic sense and easily their best yet.