Available on: Ghostly International LP
Shigeto’s last album and his second for Ghostly International, Lineage, was beautifully conceived, drawing on the themes of familial closeness between grandparents and grandson. Its execution, though, was a little unexciting. The production was at a high level – this wasn’t just beat scene tourism – and the samples of his grandmother’s voice were a heartwarming touch, but overall the album washed over you. The problem was that for all Shigeto’s technical finesse as a producer, the songs weren’t varied enough in mood to do more than leave a vague impression of longing. For new LP No Better Time Than Now, Shigeto largely overcomes those weaknesses. There’s more variation in style, as songs with a powerful, swung hip-hop rhythms (‘Ringleader’, ‘Ritual Howl’ and ‘Perfect Crime’) sit comfortably alongside jazzier numbers like ‘Miss U’ and softer, ambient soundscapes (‘Olivia’, ‘Silver Lining’). The songs are emotive without being mawkish, each with its own distinct atmosphere yet quite clearly part of a unified whole.
But the beauty of No Better Time Than Now lies in its textural detail. Shigeto’s expanded his palette to include a wider range of live instrumentation than ever before. In the hands of a less capable producer this wealth of different timbres and textures could get lost in a middle-range soup, but Shigeto’s mixdowns mean they have room to breathe. Particularly worth noting are denser songs like ‘Detroit Part 1’, whose shaker percussion, pearly synths and little constellations of clicks and whoops feel both entirely natural and elegantly crafted. Between the soft clicking beat, gently pealing chimes and jazzy piano chords, ‘Soul Searching’ also has plenty going on, but is introspective and avoids self-indulgence entirely, as does ‘Ringleader’ which interweaves layers of fat open snares, delicate noodling synths and lively Afro rhythms together to warm, luscious effect.
No Better Time Than Now is well sequenced, too: ‘Perfect Crime’ emphasises percussion and low end over complex melody, acting as a bridge between ‘Ringleader’ and the plaintive ‘Olivia’, while the beatless opener ‘First Saturn Return’ sets the scene for the drum-heavy ‘Detroit Part 1’ well. Even though its runtime is less than an hour, No Better Time Than Now still feels like it could use a trim here and there. ‘Safe In Here’ fails on a songwriting rather than production level: its galloping live drums offset the wistful and hazy piano lines nicely, but without a strong lead melody, the track feels a little haphazard, even underwritten. The album could also stand to lose ‘Silver Lining’, whose diluted washes of vocals, thin piano loop and over-reliance on hiss and crackle are more sentimental than evocative. Still, these flaws notwithstanding, No Better Time Than Now is both musically rich and emotionally open, and it’ll be interesting to see where Shigeto takes his sound next.