Detroit quartet Saajtak makes mini-rock operas on 'If You Ask'


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Saajtak doesn't just make songs. It’s more like world-building. The Detroit-based quartet of musicians would defy you from placing them in the “experimental” category (which is usually a sugar-coated code for "weird" or "unconventional"); instead, Saajtak makes mini-rock operas for the theater in your mind, inclined most of all toward the sensory-stretching excitement and nuanced energy found only in the sometimes forceful art of absolute boundary-pushing.

The groove they set is a slow burn, but it gets deep. It’s a mixture of patience and entrancement, it seems, the way each of the four respective artists mine their individual expressive quarries, spreading out the terrain with each of their meticulously arranged patterns and melodies — be it the time signatures of the percussion; the interweaving ambient latticework of the guitar and keyboards counterbalanced spacey-buzz and brooding fuzz; or the uncontainable arc, flutter, and soaring quality of the lead vocals. The spell the band casts on songs like “Hectic” is such that it would almost seem like they’re finding a four-way harmony by chance, that otherwise, they’re almost in their own lucid dream.
This weekend, Saajtak are unveiling a batch of songs that breathes new and vibrant life into the pair of six-plus minute songs that they released in 2018: both “Hectic” and “If You Ask” are presented on their new album in two different mixes. One of the most stirring tracks is an acoustic version of “If You Ask,” with brushes on the drums, tension building pianos and tension releasing echoes of vibraphone, along with upright bass and uneffected vocals, giving it a more organic feel and spacing things out even further, from its original runtime of 7 minutes, to beyond the 9 minute mark. Jonathan Snipes then does a remix of “If You Ask,” giving it a bit of a house-music-on-Neptune vibe, rearranging vocal samples and creating new bursts of energy from the arrangement of guitar growls, as a pulse-raising drum machine begins a hypnotic run underneath.
Meanwhile, the Sterling Remix of “Hectic” gets a bit jazzy and new-wave at the same time; the saxophone is isolated and coils near the top, while a new sheen reminiscent of videogame soundtracks is added to the keyboard and guitar. As the chorus hits, with the trilling winds and swooning timbres, it might feel as though you’re drifting right out past the stratosphere. Finally, there’s the Polyhop Remix of “Hectic” that features Kadence, an emcee from Ann Arbor’s hip-hop scene. The beat is slowed down to a pensive stride, while the instrumental elements curtain around the raps like a quiet storm. “Hectic/ What could you be your want if the form was formless” raps Kadence, over a James Bond-esque draw of orchestral strings.
What if the form was formless… It sums up the allure of what Saajtak do so well. When they’re not tied to conventions, they can become veritable musical acrobats: the melodic equivalent of aerial ballet that is not tethered, but instead, reaching toward the next trapeze.
Saajtak are Simon Alexander-Adams, Alex Koi, Jonathan Taylor, and Ben Willis. The band's new album is officially out Saturday, Aug. 10 at the Ghost Light with a release show with Finkel, DUANE, and Throwaway; 2314 Caniff St., Hamtramck. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

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