Chris Daly stared at this cover for several hours prior to writing.
Few young dance producers have seen as much artistic growth as Shigeto. From the ethereal float of “What We Held On To” to the astro-beats of “Full Circle,” the confessional dreaminess of “Lineage” to the production creativity of “BEATS 4 DILLA,” Zach Saginaw has grown by leaps and bounds over his admittedly short career. As far as I’m concerned, he’s among the most slept on in the game. Having seen him open for Star Slinger, Bonobo and Shlohmo, the kid has taken ownership of the stage each time I’ve been in attendance. With No Better Time Than Now, his latest LP on Ghostly, I suspect Shigeto’s fan base will get the boost he rightfully deserves.
Allegedly recorded during a tumultuous period in the Ann Arbor native’s life, No Better’s gestation occurred during a stretch of heavy touring and heartbreak. What’s more, Shigeto had a completely different album nearly ready for distribution when his laptop was stolen at a gig. While a couple of tracks were salvaged from back-up hard drives, it’s unlikely we’ll ever hear the full fruits of those labors. This is all the more criminal as the two tracks that Shigeto eventually released for free played out like the best beats never given to D’ Angelo.
Whereas Shigeto has been rocking obvious R&B groove, the re-tooled No Better opts for a more earthy, jungle sound. And by “jungle,” I don’t mean the British sub-genre. I mean this shit is verdant, humid, with all sorts of things crawling underfoot and flying through the air. Maybe it’s his formal training as a percussionist, but each of these jams is tribal in their intensity and flavor.
“First Saturn Return” makes about as fine an album opener as you’re going to hear this year. A progressing synth line over tinkling bells conveys a perfect “we’re about to get it on” vibe — even the static in the background is perfectly selected. “Detroit Part 1” could be the downright funkiest thing Shigeto has ever written, complete with Pac-Man samples and an obvious indebtedness to Dilla’s sensibilities. “Ringleader” is an electronic drum circle done the way our eventual robot overlords will approve. “Perfect Crime” comes as close as the album gets to club music, the title all the more fitting as it steals the ass shaking tendencies of dub while leaving the annoying drops to less talented folks.. “Miss U” sounds similar to the aforementioned R&B vibe of the Stolen Beats, and it comes across as the closest thing to a love song as you’ll find here.
For an instrumental album, Shigeto conveys an impressively wide range of emotions. The back half goes in a bit more experimental direction. “Ritual Howl” is a pulsating, low key journey into seemingly dark places, while “Soul Searching” starts out as UFO synths before transforming into an unadulterated drum kit jam session. “Silver Lining” uses vocals much like Shlohmo did on “Places” and “Laid Out,” i.e., as another source of instrumentation. “Tell a Tale” ends things the way a Shigeto album should end: with experimental production and percussion.
No Better is a ready-made classic for those late night hours between 3 and 5 a.m. This is not music to blow the roof off, but rather to perfect that late night vibe within four walls, once the heavy drugs have worn off, but you’re clearly not ready to crash.