No better time than now. Strong words, especially coming from Zach Saginaw, the Detroit-based percussionist and producer behind Shigeto. After all, it’s hard to forget that Shigeto’s last album — 2012’s aptly-titled Lineage — took as its cover art a 1916 photograph of Saginaw’s ancestral home in pre-war Hiroshima. The choice of image was poetic: a ghostly peek back in time to a moment untouched by the war, by the internment camps, by the bomb. And indeed, these seem to be the subjects that most preoccupy Shigeto’s earlier work. But that was 2012. Welcome to 2013. And there is no better time than now.
What happened to Saginaw in the intervening year? Well, life it seems. The press material for No Better Time Than Now has been intent on framing the album within the narrative of a transformative year for the artist, a year punctuated with non-stop touring, the end of a relationship, and a fateful move back home from Brooklyn to Detroit. But forget all the pretext. What makes this album so remarkable is how little bearing this narrative — or indeed any narrative — seems to have on the music itself. This isn’t an album about a year in the life of Zach Saginaw. It isn’t about his previous work as Shigeto, some sort of climactic chapter in an artistic Bildungsroman. This is an album about the present. No exposition. No climax. Only a singular, glorious now.
How so? Simply put, there is an immediacy to No Better Time Than Now that few recent albums can match. It is a stunningly gorgeous, self-contained sonic universe that softly unfolds and neatly resolves itself. Opener “First Saturn Return” sets the mood from the opening moments, softly building up to a simple, unbearably lush climax. “Detroit Part 1” only builds from here, layering and layering waves of rich sound into increasingly complex rhythms and patterns, intersecting, diffusing, intertwining in an astonishing network of choreographed noise. And the album only continues to evolve. In the hands of a lesser musician, the result would have been exhausting. In Saginaw’s, it is nothing short of effortless.
Indeed, like a masterfully carved piece of woodwork, every facet of this record has been lovingly molded such that, when all’s said and done, the finished product looks completely natural. As if it grew out the ground fully formed, with Saginaw simply nurturing it on its way. There are times when the music becomes so intricate, so nuanced that the hands of the artist disappear altogether. As if the music could not have occurred in any other way. All you can do is sit back and say, “it is simply thus.”
But no art occurs in a vacuum, and No Better Time Than Now offers some hints to possible influences. The jazz-infused zen-futurism of Los Angeles-era Flying Lotus immediately comes to mind, and more than a few tracks — including the heart-rending album standout, “Miss U” — seem to recall the dulcet synthesized tones of Return to Forever. And then there are the obvious traces of Saginaw’s Detroit techno roots. Pulsing beats, clanging metalwork. And yet, Saginaw molds these sounds so fluidly that the seams never show. This is a Shigeto piece from start to finish. And it is truly something to behold.
No better time than now? Perhaps. But I have a feeling it gets even better from here.