Japanese-American artist Shigeto (real name Zach Saginaw) has been floating just underneath the radar for some time now. After two very accomplished albums and a whole host of remixes, Saginaw has created what might be his finest and most confident body of work yet, one that will hopefully see him raise his head above the parapet.
Read any interview with Saginaw and you see that he bears all emotionally; his regret of not embracing his Japanese side in adolescence – his fascination with his family history during WWII – his willingness to discuss the end of a long-term relationship; all this offers an insight into the artist that you rarely see in a scene overflowing with bravado. Saginaw successfully carries this raw emotion into his music; the dreamy thumb piano of single ‘Detroit Part 1’, the dissolving Rhodes piano at the climax of ‘Ringleader’, the disorientating backdrop of ‘Ritual Howl’. For each vulnerable sound created, he will throw you a curve-ball ‘Ringleader’s opening flirts with sequenced bleeps and cyclical percussion before bombastic tribal drumming takes centre stage. It’s easier to imagine Saginaw conducting a huge samba group than the reality of him sat behind a laptop meticulously arranging drum patterns. This is what sets No Better Time Than Now apart from Shigeto’s back catalogue; gone are the out-of-the-box hip hop beats. A drummer by trade, Saginaw has honed his skills in rhythmic structures, albeit it for the head rather than the feet. The LP showcases his ability to dodge genres; it’s too disciplined to be jazz; too chaotic to be house music; too progressive to be hip-hop.
Half-way through the album we’re met with ‘Miss U’; very much a slow-burner littered with hotel lobby organ solos and chimes, but it only acts as a red herring. Where many-an-album may fizzle out into moroseness from here, Saginaw lets go of the reigns and really begins to experiment. The creepy melodic bells of ‘Ritual Howl’ drift over a shuffling heartbeat kick drums whilst synths emulate passing police sirens, and you’d be forgiven for bringing Boards of Canada to mind. The title track effectively manages to summarise all that is good about No Better Time Than Now; hoodwinking radio frequencies clash with clickety-clack rhythms, detuned synths clash with monkey-with-a-type-writer percussion. Around the mid-point of the track, a rock beat sneaks in with that trusty Rhodes piano once more; nostalgia and futurism sit side by side. There’s no push and pull. No fighting for headspace. Everything sounds so natural. The album ends rather subtly with ‘Tell a Tale’, threadbare beats and a lush synthetic bassline that simmers but never boils over.
The beauty of this LP is that it reveals itself over time. You will be rewarded for repeated listens, as the albums nuances begin to jump out at you; it will eventually grab you by the heart and mind rather than the balls. Perhaps the album title is a little ironic being released during one of the best years for electronic releases in a long time, but Shigeto needn’t worry; No Better Time Than Now has every right to be at the very top of the list.