Yet another stunning musical export from the Motor City, Zach Saginaw aka Shigeto released his second album for the consistently excellent Ghostly International imprint earlier this year. He's a drummer as well as a producer and it shows… his beautifully textured productions draw on his musical heritage as much as they look forward to the horizon… which is probably why I like them so much.
"2012 was a powerful year for me. I released my second LP; I played nearly 180 shows in 360 days; I made the move back home from Brooklyn, NY to Detroit, MI; a six-year relationship of mine came to an end and I made it 30 years on the planet." The music of Zach Saginaw, aka Shigeto, has always been deeply rooted in his personal history. His debut EPs Semi-Circle and What We Held Onto explored his grandmother’s experience from a US internment camp through ambient, beat driven tracks, nostalgic melodies and spliced vocal samples, including his grandmother’s vocals. His debut album Full Circle became a culmination of these EPs and further refinement of obsessive field recording and meticulous percussion, creating lush, sumptuous instrumental hip-hop. 2012’s sophomore album Lineage was a musical journey through his heritage combined with the sounds of jazz, hip-hop, funk and folk. The cover of his great grandfather's house in Hiroshima even adorned the Lineage artwork.
For all that Saginaw reveres his connections to his past, however, his new album seems very much about the idea of living in the moment. The signs of this idea are all over No Better Time Than Now — from the obvious connotations of the album title, through song titles that seem harbingers of change and immediacy ("First Saturn Return," "Soul Searching") to the music itself. It's an album that reflects a pivotal year in the life of its creator.
This sense of the restless vigor that change can bring is palpable throughout No Better Time Than Now. Fans of Shigeto's previous work will find all the hallmarks of his sound here — the warm, inviting washes of liquid synth sounds, the intricate production, the jazz-influenced arrangements. Now, however, they're imbued with a subtle energy — "Detroit Part 1," for instance, features a surprisingly pounding hip hop beat, while "Ringleader" is propelled by an insistent hi-hat pattern that sits slightly ahead of the beat, giving the track a driving mood that belies its tempo. Even the quieter tracks retain a certain sense of urgency — the aforementioned "Soul Searching," for instance, is a track that sounds just as reflective as its name might suggest, but it's kept from drifting too far into introspection by a powerful, echo-laden beat. The title track starts out in a similarly pensive vein, but builds slowly into a storm of fuzzy synth sounds and clattering drums. Even the penultimate "Silver Lining," a quietly beautiful mixture of Shigeto’s evocative vocals and tinkling electric piano, features one of the punchier kickdrum sounds you'll ever hear.
Despite its origins in change and unrest, No Better Time Than Now is ultimately a positive work: "The last year was definitely a significant turning point in my life both musically and personally," Saginaw says, "but life has its way of working things out in the strangest of ways. I spent most of the year traveling and that gave me a lot of time to think. I got to know myself a lot better and that helped me be more honest with myself… that helped me write more honest music and gave me inspiration and excitement for the future."
This sense of internal reflection and confidence imbues every moment of this record. As Saginaw says, "I feel when things change so much so fast, you are forced to look at what is right in front of you… [to] look at what's happening in the moment, [which] sometimes helps you embrace that moment. These songs are that for me. Don't sleep on a feeling. If it feels right it is. We say life is 'short,' but [we] know it feels 'long,' so when you have a chance to be honest with yourself, take it — there is no better time than now." No better time, indeed.