Earlier this year, Japan’s Hopeless Local Marching Band released the wonderful short album Caffeine and Sleeping Pills, which represented a shift to the chapter track: long score-like songs unfolding like books. This shift happily continues with two new pieces on this split EP, augmented by two short selections from the Derbyshire trio Haiku Salut. The two artists sequence together well, playing off each other’s strengths and perhaps learning a little in the process. If there’s a forthcoming tour, one can imagine fans of each artist being pleased by the presence of the other.
Before getting to the music, it’s worth noting that this EP is impeccably mastered. Upon first hearing it, I thought, “I haven’t heard music sounding this clear since Trust“, which was the work of Rudi Arapahoe. Turns out this is Arapahoe’s work too. The clarity of these pieces is astonishing; considering all the innovations of the modern era, it’s surprising that so many albums fail on this front, but Arapahoe’s contribution is nearly as influential as that of the composers.
Haiku Salut leads off the album with the Christmasy “If It’s Not Baroque, Don’t Fix It”. Glockenspiels are responsible for the sweetness on this piece, but the trio’s combination of electronics with happy instruments (accordion, ukulele, piano) on last year’s debut EP has earned them fitting comparisons to early múm. (It’s also nice to see other writers distinguish early múm from later múm.) Jump to track three, and the theme continues with “Maybe I Can’t Fix Myself”, which also invites comparison to the twinkly efforts of Pawn. And yet, the trio is not exactly like either act; the organic instruments differentiate it from the latter, and the unmuddied optimism from the former. Haiku Salut is well on its way to a signature sound, which is difficult to do in such a short time. With a debut album due soon, there’s never been a better time to discover the work of this pleasantly magical act.
Hopeless Local Marching Band has a little bit more experience under its belt, but is also an act on the rise. Already, hearing the similarly-related “Sleepwalkers Night” and “Paradoxial Insomnia”, one knows this is the work of HLMB; as mentioned in the review of the last release, this shift in sound is positive and should have a major impact over time. At seven minutes, “Sleepwalkers Night” is the briefer piece, but it packs a punch by taking care of business quickly. No long builds are necessary; by the third minute, it’s already in full swing. The major break arrives four minutes in, when a gentle guitar-and-strings segment takes center stage; a minute later, the *BOOM* arrives – a moment that HLMB is starting to specialize in. But those with longer attention spans and an ear for intricacy will be drawn to the EP’s closing piece, which continues to tumble, segment to segment, until it has wandered far from its base. While the piece is slower in tempo than “Sleeping Pills” (we sense a theme here), it doesn’t wait as long to explode. Listening multiple times is like riding a familiar roller coaster; one begins to anticipate the sudden sonic shifts as if they were drops or loops.
What can the artists learn from each other? From HLMB, Haiku Salut might learn how to constuct a longer track, in case they ever want to try one. (The trio’s longest track to date, “Vowels As Clear As Church Bells”, is also their best, clocking in at a healthy 6:22.) From Haiku Salut, HLMB might learn how to be a little less linear; math-rock structures go a long way, but varying modes of composition can also be a boon. The beauty of this EP is that it flows so nicely from one artist to the other and from one mode to the next. Kudos to both and thank you for the mood boost! (Richard Allen)