By embellishing field recordings from his personal life with loose grooves and homespun digital lushness, Zach Saginaw has established his Shigeto moniker to be just as much a standard-bearer for lovingly-crafted, thoroughly-modern instrumental hip-hop as a highly-personal affective historiography project. Indeed, both his debut LP Full Circle and its mini-LP follow-up Lineage represent abstract tributes to the time his Japanese relatives spent forcibly inhabiting internment camps during World War II. Only liner notes and artist profiles provide that information explicitly, though: Even the most organic parts of Shigeto’s seductive collages only bear vague resemblance to any Earthly time or place. What Saginaw lacks in specificity, however, he makes up for in emotional content, and it is precisely this sense of depth that made Full Circle special. Although Lineage doesn’t part with its forebear’s overall sensibility, some basic differences make it ever-so-slightly less engrossing overall.
The most noticeable difference between Full Circle and Lineage is the rhythm section, which has been pared down and sped up. The beats on Full Circle sounded like they weighed a ton and broke apart on impact, producing the tense and wobbly effect so often associated with dubstep. Lineage’s percussion is meanwhile nimbler, brighter, and seemingly more organic, and the album breezes through thirty minutes without breaking a sweat. The result is both an improvement and a cutback (an assessment Saginaw himself echoes in an official interview). On the one hand, as I listened to Full Circle, even the best, most moving tracks – “Relentless Drag”, “A Close Keeper” – struck me as wanting for stability, especially because they were so resonant: acceleration could release the tension their unsteady march hinted at but suppressed. On the other, though, the heavy pace befitted the album’s raw gravity, which was legible in the poignant grooves themselves, and somehow lost in the conversion to lighter beats.
As responsible – perhaps more so – for this loss, is a greater levity in general. Not that Lineage is happy music, per se. Rather, it levels Full Circle’s emotional depth into a sort of contented equanimity. Shigeto’s style favors horizontal, cumulative structures on both albums, but Lineage covers tamer terrain, reflected in names like “Huron River Drive” and “Field Trip”. (“Please Stay” would appear to break this mold, but lacks any of the desperation its title suggests.) Even “Soaring”, carried on diffuse rhythms not unlike Full Circle’s (if a bit faster), never quite transcends its own unimpeachable pleasantness.
Pleasantness doesn’t foreclose pleasure, though, even for the hard-to-please part-time critic. In the same interview, Saginaw described Lineage as a more manifest illustration of his jazz background, and although the compositions are tighter, they also keep the melodic stuff dutifully just shy of the beat. Moreover, the rambunctious live drumming of “A Child’s Mind” supplies playful, quasi-improvisatory vitality to the proceedings. The title track and its prologue open Lineage with effervescent splendor that rivals any of Full Circle’s evocations, leading into “Ann Arbor Part 3 & 4”, a worthy successor to parts 1 and 2 on the previous album. Lineage is, however, decidedly front-loaded. The loungy sedateness of “Huron River Drive”, “Field Trip”, and “Please Stay” close the album on an uninspiring note.
What Lineage amounts to is therefore not a disappointment itself, but nevertheless represents a step back for Shigeto in an apparent attempt at progress. The relative rawness of Full Circle has been streamlined seemingly in the interest of dexterity and a mellower mood, with the effect of eliminating some of that earlier album’s subtle power. On its own terms, Lineage offers sundry delights, particularly for hip-hop heads with a taste for crate-diggers like Prefuse 73 or Madlib or songsters like Rjd2. I would be remiss to deny, however, that it left this hard-to-please part-time critic less than completely satisfied.