Shadow Work is the third album by Norwich-based Mammal Hands, and their most ambitious yet. The band’s line-up is unchanged – brothers Jordan Smart on saxophone and Nick Smart on piano, with Jesse Barrett on drums and percussion – and their distinctive sound remains intact. However, they have brought in a number of diverse influences and sound-effects that keep things fresh and vibrant.
The opening track, Black Sails, begins with a simple, rolling piano motif by Nick Smart, before Jesse Barrett picks up the pace with a shuffling dance-influenced drum beat, and Jordan Smart’s soaring sax takes the tune to the next level. The pace slows once more, before building to an impressive crescendo.
Wringer is one of two tracks that sees Nick Smart experimenting with muting his piano sound; it is a subtle change that works to good effect. The other track, Solitary Bee, is different again, with Jordan Smart’s chorus line influenced by an Irish folk melody.
Nick Smart is not the only Mammal to be experimenting on the new album. On Boreal Forest, drummer Jesse Barrett incorporates electronic-style drum beats halfway through, as the track starts to build, while on Three Good Things he alters his drum sound with various devices, including metal objects. He also uses Indian tabla drums on this track, which includes a lovely duet with pianist Nick Smart.
Not be left out, saxophonist Jordan Smart uses effects on his saxophone on the outro to Straight Up Raining as the track builds to an impressive climax.
Near/Far and Being Here are short solo pieces by Nick Smart; the former was improvised in the recording studio, whilst the latter, which brings the album to a close, also features a field recording of birds in the local countryside.
The various changes described above are all delicate, leaving the band’s distinctive sound and unique dynamic untouched. The strong melodies that are at the heart of the band’s compositions remain a key feature, and Shadow Work is a very enjoyable album from start to finish.