Mammal Hands' fifth studio album, pointing to subtle shifts and exciting new departures for the unique trio
Mammal Hands fifth album 'Gift from the Trees' offers a fresh perspective on the unique trio's singular music. The first to be recorded in a residential studio, the band enjoyed the opportunity to go late into the night searching for a deeper, more organic experience, closer to both their writing process but also their trance-like live performances. While some of the music was pre-composed and had even been performed live, the band also enjoyed the opportunity to improvise ideas in the studio. Drummer Jesse Barrett explains:
We wanted to have a more immersive experience that felt closer to our writing process. One thing that was really important to us was feeling free to jam out ideas as they came to us. We're at a point now where playing and writing together can sometimes feel almost telepathic, that as individuals we can tune in to a collective resonance and just follow that thread where it wants to go. Sometimes it's something as simple as a rhythmic, textural flow, like in Sleeping Bear.
There was also a conscious decision to move away from the sound and ambiance of the recording studio, with the band opting to engineer the record with their go-to live engineer Benjamin Capp before mixing the sessions with Greg Freeman in Berlin. The idea was to try and capture more of the energy of the band's captivating shows, saxophonist Jordan Smart explains:
Considering the group of tracks we had, it made sense to try and capture this process as organically and honestly as possible, and so a change in studio environment felt like the right move to us. Some of the tracks have a raw joy and energy that came with being able to play together again after a long period of time of having been apart, and capture that feeling of just being happy to be in a room with our instruments altogether again.
Whereas for pianist Nick Smart there was also the chance to really go deep into the band's music:
The new studio environment really opened us up to different ways of working and thinking because we could record at any hour of the day or night. I think this allowed us much more freedom to try unusual ideas and push elements of the music to extremes because we had the time to really focus in on the detail and work on things without time pressure. With some tracks, we were trying to find the boundaries of our playing ability and push beyond that point. With others, it was just getting into the right mindset and putting as much energy and emotion into the take as possible.'
The Welsh environment outside the studio doors seeped into the music presented on Gift from the Trees, with two recording sessions (one in winter and one in the spring) bringing different moods: one bleak and wintery, the other more hopeful and bright – an energy that permeates through tracks such as Kernel and Dimu.
Gift from the Trees opens with wonderfully elevating The Spinner which grew from one of Nick's piano parts and was developed and arranged into a complete tune without losing the feeling of constant flow and motion. It is almost like a dance, with the interaction of different melody parts and the doubling of certain parts melding together and fitting into the overall energetic flow, while Jesse's drums are both floating and deeply melodic. Riser aims to capture the band's raw energy and intriguingly is influenced by both breaks and modern drum production but also minimalist classical composition. Nightingale features the band at their most delicate and lyrical – a band favourite it draws heavily on modern folk with a beautifully realised melody that came unforced to pianist Nick Smart before being jammed out together. It was recorded early one morning, bringing an extra light and brightness to this beautiful performance.
Another album highlight is Dimu which utilises one of drummer Jesse Barret's favourite rhythmic devices from the Tabla repertoire and draws inspiration from Indian, Greek and Arabic music as well as modern folk arrangements. Dimu starts with saxophone over a bed of drones and percussion and moves through many different sections that frame and present the melodies in unique ways. The beguiling, intimate Deep within Mountains aims to place you in the room with the band as they play; it was recorded late at night to capture a dreamlike, liminal ambiance. The piano solo really reflects this mood and energy while the tenor is some of the softest and closest on the recording. Elsewhere, the remarkable Labyrinth started with what Nick describes as "some weird recording on my phone from a soundcheck, where Jordan was playing some crazy sounding bass clarinet part and I quickly recorded him", giving birth to a captivating, complex slice of propulsive 'almost' contemporary classical that like so much of the music on Gift from the Trees really couldn't be any other band than Mammal Hands.
Finally, the album draws to a close with the glorious Sleeping Bear, a tune that was wholly improvised in the studio. Nick and Jesse entered a simple but 'weird' locked groove and Jordan improvises melodies over the top. The track came about without any planning or thought; it was one of those special things that came by surprise and the band felt offered the perfect ending to their latest gift to us all: a deeply enthralling album that captures so much of what makes Mammal Hands a special band while mapping out new routes and paths for their beautiful, beguiling music.