In 2018, as part of a project commissioned by Greenpeace with the intention of raising awareness about the endangered Antarctic environment, Arthur Jeffes wrote four songs about specific species of penguins native to the continent. As Jeffes became enamored by their characteristics, he began to fantasize an entire world of anthropomorphic penguins, and he developed this concept into the fourth Penguin Cafe album. The nine compositions on Handfuls of Night serve as a soundtrack to this imaginary penguin world, and as one might expect of Penguin Cafe, they're as playful as they are poignant. The mainly acoustic arrangements, occasionally dusted with a touch of granular synthesis, are warm and lively, capturing the spirit of the penguins going about their daily activities while the endless sunlight illuminates the subzero tundra. "Chinstrap" depicts one of the more social types of penguins, and is appropriately playful, while "Gentoo Origin" is befitting of a species that is both athletic and romantic. "The Life of an Emperor" is perhaps the most dramatic piece, with swelling strings characterizing the brave, regal beings. "Adelie," named after the smallest, most curious penguins who can dive incredibly deep, is tense and fragile, resembling a weightless journey through the sea. Beyond the pieces written about specific penguins, the ones that illustrate scenes and concepts are some of the most adventurous on the album. "Chapter" is based on the idea of a penguin detective caper, and it evokes a calm sense of drama with its industrious strings and distant, melodious pianos. "Pythogaras on the Line Again" is an interpretation of a piece which appeared on Penguin Cafe Orchestra's final album from 1993, using sampled dial tones to demonstrate the principles of harmonics. Conveying a sense of childlike wonder about the natural world, the album is full of life and immensely enjoyable.
AllMusic Review by Paul Simpson