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Mammal Hands- Captured Spirits ★★★★★ (Album Review)

11 September 2020


Album Rating 5 / 5

Mammal Hands Captured Spirits Album review jazz revelations

Describe Mammal Hands’ sound, and your vocabulary will flourish. This panoramic music is fresh fruit for the imagination. You can close your eyes and transform your mind into an epic cinematic scene, or gaze out of the train window and watch the world fly by as this soundtrack transforms your experience.

The trio’s well-drilled formula of looping piano phrases, hushed complex fluid drumming, and emboldened, fervent sax, carve captivating dramatic visual melodies. From meeting busking in Norwich several years ago, the non-formally trained musicians crafted their distinctive sound to this their fourth studio album, Captured Spirits.

Exploring the themes of existence and displacement, Nick Smart (keys) expands: “The name has multiple readings but was first inspired by something Jordan (sax) was reading about past experiences of ancestors being caught and coded into our DNA and having an effect on who you are today. This ties in with themes that we have touched on before relative to identity and the collective unconscious (Shadow Work, 2017). It also toys with the idea of feeling contained/trapped and the need to break out of something and also the idea of people being spirits that are "captured" in a body”.

Opening 'Ithaca' soars, followed by the catchy and skipping 'Chaser'. The record’s pace weaves dizzying rapidity with 'Late Bloomer & Riddle' and with meditative intensity in 'Versus Shapes'. Intensive percussion moves fluidly throughout, modifying in 'Versus Shapes' as Jesse exercises his 12 years tabla experience creating an intoxicating atmosphere.

Serenely resting between the charged numbers is 'Shoreless'. These 1.43 minutes breathe a patient pause in the record, much alike 'Near/Far' and 'Being Here' on their previous album Shadow Work. Followed by 'Into Sparks', Jordan's sax purrs purely descending into a raw brawn texture. The album finishes with 'Little One', a delicate track written shortly after drummer Jesse’s daughter was born - it's a sweet finish.

Mammal Hands’ minimalist musical aesthetic is paralleled with their minimalist visual aesthetic. Long collaborating artist Daniel Halsall's artwork truly compliments the record: “Our work with Dan over such a long period of time now has become integral to the bands aesthetic and he always seems to grasp the themes and ideas that we send for each album and distills them into something striking and engaging that really complements the music. This is really important with instrumental music, as we need to be able to convey our ideas without being too literal or definitive and give the listeners space for imagination and to take their own journey when they listen to the music and look at the artwork”.

With Captured Spirits, their fourth release, it’s much of the same we’ve heard before. As their songs loop and repeat stylistically, so have their albums (more or less). They've honed their style, not diversified it.

They're also one of those band’s that’s seemingly touring endlessly, hypnotising audiences across the globe. With such concentration on playing live, and a refined formula that works so wonderfully, why would they seek to change?

Mammal Hands

Jordan quoted: “Music has the capacity to fill so many spaces in our lives, as I think fundamentally it is a more direct form of communication than even language. In this way it can be refuge, it can be social, it can be revelatory, it can be memory, it can be what we need at a given point in time”.

Captured Spirits is their apex, its sound and soul beats the band's heart. -----

I will leave you with some of my favourite words I thought of whilst listening: Pirouetting. Meditative. Pulsing. Formulaic. Looping. Rough. Hypnotic. Echoing. Fervent. Gentle. Delicate. Twinkling. Epic. Grounded. Pressurised. Flying. Dizzying. Textured.

Mammal Hands' Captured Spirits is out today via Gondwana Records.


Mammal Hands are saxophonist Jordan Smart, pianist Nick Smart and drummer and percussionist Jesse Barrett.

Buy and stream Captured Spirits here:

- Bandcamp

Keep up-to-date with Mammal Hands here:

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