From the opening moments of “First Saturn Return”, the lead track off Detroit-based producer Shigeto’s new full-length, all Rhodes twinkle and warm analog crackle, it’s clear what kind of mood he recommends. No Better Time Than Now is riddled with a softly glowing, smoky jazz-combo nostalgia, thematically relating it to his previous release, 2012’s excellent EP Lineage. An accomplished jazz drummer, Shigeto’s tasteful blend of live percussion and vintage analog instrumentation with digitally manipulated loops and samples has gradually mutated into a signature sound.
Where Lineage kept it succinct and maintained a contemplative air throughout, No Better Time Than Now shows Shigeto more comfortably stretched out with occasional forays into quicker tempos. “Ringleader” rides peppy Afro-Cuban percussion through a nearly six-minute workout of Bonobo-esque Rhodes stabs and bass just this side of subliminal, and “Perfect Crime” shows off the man’s drum chops via some absurdly polyrhythmic rim shots garnish with buzzsaw synth bass. The pace drops a bit for the middle of the album, with the sparse, avant-garde “Olivia” and the stately, yearning “Miss U” back on the emotional downtempo tip that Shigeto fans have grown to love. “Soul Searching”, another standout track, initially plays almost like a sequel to “Miss U”- skittering live drums, bells and vibraphones and so on- until gradually unfolding to reveal an almost perversely juxtaposed wobble bassline. That’s really the beauty of No Better Time Than Now in a nutshell: the sound remains consistent enough from track to track that it honestly could pass for one massive, hour-long composition, but there’s so many small surprises and twists placed (and often nearly buried) throughout that you’ll never think twice about devoting the hour.
Splitting the difference between lounge-y expensive-mixed-drink jazz and tranquil Sunday morning downtempo, with just a faint touch of hip-hop snap in the drums, the aesthetic isn’t an attempt to reinvent the wheel. Shigeto’s skill, as it happens, lies in his ability to first remind you of things you’ve forgotten you love, then constantly and expertly tinker with them. No Better Time Than Now, even more so than his previous output, is a meditation on the merits of variation rather than variety, and proves that subtle but constant manipulation of a familiar theme isn’t just for four-on-the-floor dance music and minimalist Philip Glass freakouts. His vision, which really started to come into focus on Lineage, has expanded and grown in all the right ways, while retaining its nostalgic gleam and sense of wonder. To sit down and listen to No Better Time Than Now is to catch a few minutes of that wonder- or, for the less pretentious, at least to enjoy an hour of absolutely perfect atmospherics on a comfortable chair in a dimly lit room. It’s got enough emotional weight to keep you invested, but not enough to ruin your day; it could be fifty years old or sent from the future (that’s the literal definition of timeless, yes?). No Better Time Than Now is an even more dignified, mature work than his previous releases, and sets the bar almost impossibly high for future work.