When I need some piano based instrumentals with tinges of jazz and rock there are two groups I go to. GoGo Penguin – and now – Mammal Hands. I came late to the party but their latest album Shadow Work released earlier this year and is an excellent tribute to the instruments its represents.
From the opening bars of “Black Sails” you can tell you’re going on a journey of sorts. The piano rumbles in before the saxophone joins. As a rule of thumb, I have usually really struggled with the saxophone but that’s because the player always goes for the showstopping overrule. Not here. Your ears hear the piano and saxophone playing in harmony, each flourish complimenting the others. The backbone to it all is the rolling percussion. So much is being hit in the drum machine that you can’t help but roll along with it. It’s a wonderful ebb and flow and one that doesn’t stop throughout the album. “Wringer” is more pensive and introverted with a rolling riff that harks at a more spiritual journey internal. The band say that they take inspiration from North Indian Folk and the spiritual places it takes you, and that dance is clearly on show here. “Boreal Forest” too has that unfurling flow to it as the chords roll down effortlessly. It’s a trio that’s utterly in synchronisation and at the top of their game. They make you feel like you’re running as a free spirit through the trees and I don’t care how much of a hippy idiot that makes me sound.
Each track has its own personality and mood. “Solitary Bee” is such a curious tale because it’s like a ticking clock monotonously going on its business, but there’s a pensive unnerve to the very fabric of its beauty. “Three Good Things” meanwhile is a stream that growls with a bass heavy underbelly and some ethnic percussion that really makes me feel like it’s a wave of feeling coursing its way through my ears. “Living Frost” feels like its sonic partner as both tracks have segments of different tempo and feel, the former free-spirited, the latter something with more weight and gravitas. I feel like a whole lumbering being in the outro third of “Living Forest” and the weight of the world is on my shoulders.
“Near/Far” is a short interlude that allows the cleaning “Straight Up Raining” to really brighten your ears and senses again with its happy gleeful splash. “Transfixed” is the most jazziest and smokiest that album gets. Starting off as a growing frustration of singular notes its broods into an electronic dance tinged jazz that lets the saxophone go off on a lamented cry over epic bass piano chords and tuned percussive synth runs. After the epic speed of the track, closing with bird song and breathy piano for “Being Here” makes the journey feel complete and accomplished. It sounds like sanctuary.
A sanctuary is very much how I view “Shadow Work”. I feel like I’ve been cleansed or gone through a catharsis each time I listen to it – and each time I grow more connected to it. This is Mammal Hands’ finest work to date for me, and one I will return back to time and again for inner strength.
Recommended Track : Black Sails