Newcomer Saya Gray, a Canadian-Japanese singer-songwriter, producer, musical director, and multi-instrumentalist recently signed to Dirty Hit (Wolf Alice, The 1975, Rina Sawayama, Beabadoobee), releases the song “IF THERE’S NO SEAT IN THE SKY (WILL YOU FORGIVE ME???)” from her forthcoming debut project, 19 MASTERS.  19 MASTERS will be released via Dirty Hit on June 2nd.

“IF THERE’S NO SEAT IN THE SKY (WILL YOU FORGIVE ME???)” is a fitting introduction into Saya’s weird and wonderful, fully-formed world, and 19 Masters as a whole.  It’s a song that has no bounds and little familiarity but instantly hits different. There are moments of crashing guitars and fiery vocals before sharply switching in and out of quieter moments of hushed tones, sparse sounds, and birdsong. It’s hard to predict where the track will go, and that’s ultimately where the beauty lies in Saya’s sonic world:  it’s an amalgamation of unorthodox songwriting, a powerful punk attitude, confessional lyricism and experimental production that incorporates elements of alt-rock, hip-hop and folk, creating an otherworldly, inviting expanse.

The “IF THERE’S NO SEAT IN THE SKY (WILL YOU FORGIVE ME???)” video was made by Canadian-Chinese director Jennifer Cheng who captures strange interactions and vivid imagery, such as two sets of toes intertwining or a ball of pink gum being stretched between a parting kiss, as Saya looks on.  It’s a bizarrely beautiful piece of art.

19 MASTERS is a reflection of Saya Gray’s experiences of isolation and expectations as a mixed race woman of Japanese and Canadian descent growing up in a predominantly white environment. Her solitary nature echoes through the record via diaristic voice notes from her time touring with other artists, with delicate vocals that drift and shapeshift.  Indeed, 19 MASTERS is produced, written, and performed entirely by Saya, with the exception of her mother opening the album in Japanese, some guitar lines from her brother, and some trumpet from her dad.  It’s soft and deeply introspective, with songs primarily about her relationship with herself, delving into her mind, avoidant patterns, and the practice of self-celebration.

This is manifest in the lyrics, with tracks like “SAVING GRACE,” which teases strange electronic distortion against staccato elegance, ruminating on dark times and how someone checking in can bring you back to earth. On the sweet ripple of ‘EMPATHY 4 BETHANY’ she unpacks constantly being on the move as a touring musician with avoidant habits, and the fraught nature of falling in love when you are always having to leave.

19 MASTERS is a dazzling listening experience.  There are significant key changes, unexpected tempo shifts, guitars and vocals warped into new sounds and shapes, and even tilts in frequency – at various points, Saya plays singing bowls, harp, and koto, bringing celestial sounds that are healing to the body, a restorative balm to all the fractured and fraught identities. The project is acoustic and lo-fi, but not; it nods to hip-hop but isn’t remotely in that space; it weaves in elements of alt-R&B, but it’s not that either.  Like the songs’ own subjects, it is a stunning world entirely of Saya Gray’s making, a peerless, genre-less sound that immediately establishes her as one of the most exciting new artists of 2022.    

For Saya, the number 19 represents the beginning and ending of a cycle, from 1 to 9 and so 19 Masters takes us on Saya Gray’s journey so far, fragmented and dreamlike, unafraid to be uncomfortable and pick apart the expectations, quietly sticking to her own path. It is a record that is all the more beguiling and immersive for it.