Artists take on pseudonyms for a multitude of reasons, but in Zach Saginaw’s case, those reasons run deeper than most. Zach records under the name Shigeto. It’s his middle name; it’s also his grandfather’s name, a tribute to the Japanese branch of Zach’s family tree. Shigeto also means “to grow bigger”—appropriate, given Zach’s premature birth-weight of less than a pound. Today, Shigeto stands for Zach’s vividly beautiful electronic music. Beat-driven but given to richly textured sound design, rhythmically fractured but melodically sumptuous, Shigeto’s music is a bridge between the past and present, bringing the artist face to face with a creative legacy that spans decades.
Zach was brought up on a steady diet of Michigan-bred music, as his father spoon-fed him old Motown and jazz records by the crateload. Zach picked up the drums at an early age, spending much of his childhood playing in the Detroit/Ann Arbor music scene. After nearly flunking out of high school—save for his music studies—Zach spent three years studying jazz at the New School in NYC and three more in London, where he began woodshedding, obsessed with learning electronic production. Soon enough, beats materialized, Zach moved to Brooklyn and took up the name Shigeto, and Zach’s peers began to take notice.
Zach’s body of work has grown over the last few years to the tune of several EPs on Moodgadget as Shigeto and with A Setting Sun,
a pair of EPs under the alias Frank Omura (another family-name reference), and remixes for Worst Friends, Praveen & Benoit, Tycho, Mux Mool, Charles Trees, A Setting Sun, Beautiful Bells, Shlohmo, and more. The Semi-Circle EP and What We Held Onto EP were his first releases with Ghostly International in the spring of 2010. These were followed quickly by the well-received full-length Full Circle and Full Circle Remixes in late 2010 and early 2011 respectively. These releases are nominally indebted to instrumental hip-hop but, like Zach, straddling many worlds at once. Cool shades of ambient music, stuttering early IDM, dubstep sub-bass, and jazz melodicism color Shigeto’s palette, which he wields with a painterly attention to detail.
Zach continues to be prolific with the upcoming 2012 release, Lineage—a mini-LP of sorts that has a complex constellation of sounds and ideas that we have come to expect from the producer/drummer. However, his compositional focus and restraint grounds songs that are otherwise cosmically inclined. Never has he demonstrated such complete command of his material.
Shigeto was one of the first of a wave of young artists who grew up influenced by the label’s early output. And again, names come into play. “Putting out these records on Ghostly isn’t just ‘getting signed,’ for me,” says Zach, “it’s becoming part of a family, an influence that I’ve respected forever.” Let’s just say the feeling’s mutual.
Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett, aka Brooklyn duo Beacon, introduced themselves to the world with the No Body and For Now EPs, both released last year on Ghostly International. The EPs were united by minimalist, R&B-influenced instrumentation, and also by a lyrical theme, with both serving as meditations on the darkness that underpins the most intense of human emotions: love.
The duo's debut album The Ways We Separate both consolidates and develops these ideas. The album focuses, as the title suggests, on the idea of separation — both within the context of relationships and in a more intimate, psychological sense. As Mullarney explains, "The narrative contained inside The Ways We Separate deals with two kinds of separation: one where two entities grow apart, and the other where we grow apart from ourselves. Over the course of a relationship, the two sometimes happen together, one being the result of the other."
Desires, passions and regrets are central to the songs on The Ways We Separate, which take a variety of perspectives to construct a nuanced reflection on the album's central theme. 'Between the Waves' draws a clever analogy between relationships and soundwaves falling out of phase: "I know all the ways we separate/ Where we start to fade at different frequencies." 'Overseer' catalogues a parting of the ways with discomfiting clarity: "Isn't it fine?/ Taking it slow?/ Watching you watch me walk out your door." And album closer 'Split in Two' explores how th extremes of love and loss can take you far away from being the person you thought you were, making explicit the connection between the two ideas of separation: "What I'd do for you?", sings Thomas Mullarney, "Split myself in half/ Divided into two."
Musically, The Ways We Separate finds Beacon working with a richer sonic palette than ever before —as Gossett says, "The production on this album is much more expansive than anything we’ve done thus far. We spent a lot of time exploring new gear and experimenting with how to pull a wide range of sound out of various instruments. Some of the key sonics that shaped this LP are analogue synthesis, lots of heavily processed guitar work, and vocal layering/processing." While the abiding mood remains that of late-night introspection, the production draws from elements of hip hop and a wide gamut of electronic music, marrying intricate beats and subtle textures to honeyed pop melodies that belie the album's conceptual depth. Rarely has bleakness sounded so pretty — this is a record that's deceptively, compellingly beautiful, an exploration of a place both discomfiting and darkly seductive.
Nitemoves is the electronic guise and internet handle of musician/sound designer Rory O'Connor. While supporting other electronic artists as a drummer (Tycho, Com Truise), O'Connor quietly composed his debut release, 'Longlines', in 3-6 hour chunks occupying the back seat of a moving car.
Championing influence from Satie, Jenkinson, & Corgan, the work was composed with the whole in mind, rather than a collection of isolated microcosms. It is a conscious endeavor in variety and continuity, attempting to bridge the gap between influences that have a tendency to contradict each other.
Written amid a period of introspection and wanderlust, it reinstalls the idea of the folk musician: traveling the country while funneling inspiration from all directions in an attempt to tell a story, to paint a picture of time passing. The title itself reflects an exercise in patience, constructing populations of simple melodies and rhythms, permitting them time to grow alongside each other and form complex relationships.