The music of Zack Saginaw has always had history and family at its core. His early EPs were about his grandmother’s experiences at a US internment camp, his second album Lineage had a photograph of his great-grandfather’s house in Hiroshima as its artwork and on top of all of that he named himself Shigeto, after his grandfather. Now though, with his third album called No Better Time Than Now, Saginaw is exploring the idea of the present.
On the surface, it may seem easy to categorise this album as ambient-techno, throw it on the pile and move on, but that would be missing the point. There is a particular rhythm here, a special sense of motion that gives Shigeto his unique voice. Song by song, the album is repetitive and trance-like. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if a track has entered a new movement, or if it has ended and a new song begun. In many hands this would make the album feel limp or directionless, but in Shigeto’s it draws you in and crucially, you get lost in the moment.
The album’s instrumentation also sets it apart from its peers. The synths bleep and flutter but are mixed with field recordings and live textures; the drum samples rattle and snap but blend with a live drum kit. All combine to make an album of electronic music that feels organic and alive. Shigeto’s ability to find rhythm in natural sounds has become something of a trademark, and this electro-acoustic blend make it very easy to find an emotional connection. While a lot of electronic music is robotic, this most definitely has a heart.
There are moments of the record where the percussion drifts from the beat slightly, just a little, before catching itself and locking back in, only to wander away again a few seconds later. Like a camera pulling focus. It’s a bewildering trick, drawing in the ear. It calls to mind a video on-line featuring 32 metronomes on a raised platform. These metronomes begin click-clacking away independently of each other but, after a number of minutes they all converge to a steady, unified tempo. Something about the raised platform they share helps these metronomes share their rhythms with one another. On No Better Time Than Now, the sense of present, the desire to live in the moment is the raised platform that allow the record’s musical elements to come together, greater than the sum of their parts.
It’s a cliché, but this is a night drive record. Music made better by a low engine hum and intermittent pulses of dull orange light. The album is made from a blend of motion and emotion and is best experienced on a journey. It’s an album of forward momentum, even when you’re not sure entirely which direction you’re heading. No matter how lost you are, while it’s tempting to look back, instead shed your past, live in the moment and continue onwards…