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For the Makers
The band Saajtak, based in Detroit (Jonathan Barahal Taylor, Ben Willis, Simon Alexander-Adams) and Brooklyn (Alex Koi), makes futuristic music that synthesizes a wide range of genres—often in ways that seem to clash against each other, always in service to the song. The band has quietly made music in Detroit for the better part of a decade, collaborating with members of clipping. and sharing bills with Xiu Xiu, Ava Mendoza and Greg Fox. Koi sings and writes lyrics; Taylor plays drums, Willis bass; Alexander-Adams contributes keyboard and electronics. But to individuate their contributions does the music a disservice. Saajtak sounds, feels, like a living, breathing organism, for which recordings don’t present definitive documents as much as they reflect songs at given points in their lives. For the Makers, the band’s first album, brims with ideas, treating their shape-shifting compositions with a high depth of field.
Saajtak’s compositions are rooted in collective improvisation; their first release, spectral [ drips ], collects several free improvisations. The band was recording music live for a full-length debut when the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pressed pause on their principal way of making music. In response, the band began working on new music remotely, in increments of eight days. Every two days, members would trade songs, gradually sculpting them into final iterations. Willis recalls putting on his headphones as he began recording bass: “The layers that Alex, Simon, and Jon had begun to craft engulfed me like a wave, filling me. I was suddenly surrounded by my friends.” Over time, the music organically cohered into an album, bringing together influences as wide-ranging as Richard Davis, Meredith Monk and Melvins. Koi’s lyrics balance narrative and enigma, incorporating several perspectives within a song in an approach she calls polyphonic narrative. “I like to imagine how personas might converse in worlds with varying levels of familiarity and skewness,” she explains. “What we receive are relationships that flow between splintery and harmonious, and that contain both ecstasy and affliction. There’s a big thrill in all this, when nothing can be apathetic.”
The record is in motion from the start, opening in medias res with anthemic lead single “Big Exit.” Koi treats her words like playthings, stretching syllables past semantics, vocal lines in conversation with one another. Alexander-Adams’ electronics quiver, and Taylor’s clattering kit seems to deconstruct the rhythm it builds, before the song unspools into a lush, minimal coda just before the 4-minute mark. “Concertmate 680” follows in a similar fashion, with a tight groove belying the song’s spare lyrics: “Desire 5ever rainbows. Spy on you.” Collaborations with guitarist Kirsten Carey, saxophonists Marcus Elliot and Kaleigh Wilder, cellist Pat Reinholz, and vocalist David Magumba add still more color to the band’s vibrant compositions. “There’s a Leak in the Shielding” references history, then uses it as a weapon: “Here, now, there is no pen,” Koi sings, “and your children’s children will not recognize them.” Her vocal melody, and the seeming naiveté of her inflection, recalls Arthur Russell, as do Alexander-Adams’ wet, percussive electronics. Throughout, the album mixes the organic and synthetic. Even as motifs, images and lyrics recur, the music thrums with energy, opening into new worlds.
This, perhaps, is part of the point: to illustrate an escape, to be one. To Alexander-Adams, For the Makers was "as much a healing practice as it was a means to create"; to Willis, it "feels like a year-improvisation, for which the music never stopped the whole time." Says Taylor, "it represents our collective voice in the deepest sense: an amalgamation of our individual vulnerabilities, imaginations, ambitions, and love for each other." The album is testament to the restless creativity powering Saajtak's engine, and the importance of cultivating creativity, trust and community.
released June 3, 2022
All tracks composed and produced by Saajtak (Alex Koi, Simon Alexander-Adams, Jonathan Barahal Taylor, Ben Willis), except 4 (composed and produced by Alex Koi) and 9 (composed by Alex Koi and Ben Willis).
Alex Koi: vocals, lyrics, vocal arrangement, vocal production (1-10), synth (1, 3, 9), electronics (2)
Simon Alexander-Adams: keyboard, synth (1-3, 5-8, 10)
Jonathan Barahal Taylor: drums (1-3, 5-8, 10), vibraphone (1, 8, 10), percussion (2-3, 6-8), sensory percussion (5, 10)
Ben Willis: bass guitar (1-2, 5, 7, 10), double bass (3, 6, 8), pianohorn (3), electronics (6), guitar (8)
Kirsten Carey: guitar (1)
Kaleigh Wilder: baritone saxophone (1)
Marcus Elliot: tenor saxophone (7)
David Magumba: vocals (8)
Pat Reinholz: cello (9)
Mixed by Chris Koltay.
Mastered by Mikey Young.
Artwork by Sandy Ewen.