During the opening chorus of “I Am”, Hands Like Houses vocalist Trenton Woodley declares, “You’re one of a thousand voices / In my head that all just sound the same / If I will make a change / It’s by my words and not my name”. For a singer known for his ambiguous lyrics, often filled with cryptic, dream-like imagery, it’s a sharply straightforward message – a broad retort aimed at a community of mid-level rockers obsessed with scene fame.
On this opening track, the Canberra, Australia, rock act deliver a stark pivot, both musically and lyrically, that carries itself across the 12 tracks of their third full-length album, Dissonants. Hands Like Houses have treaded along the outskirts of success in the U.S. post-hardcore scene since their breakthrough on Rise Records in 2012, never quite landing on one distinct sonic identity until now.
The band’s exciting debut album, Ground Dweller, was full of vigor but lacking in direction, marked by oddly placed metalcore breakdowns and untamed programming elements. While acclaimed producer James Paul Wisner was brought in to mold the band’s 2013 follow-up, Unimagine, that release felt overly restrained, sapping much of the energy that made Hands Like Houses so exciting in the first place.
Nearly a year in the making, there’s no denying the importance of this third release from the band – and the gravity of the moment seems not to be lost. Dissonants realizes the full potential of a band on the cusp, serving as the most cohesive and focused album of the band’s career and an early front runner for the best rock record of the year.
This time around, Wisner appears to have unleashed Hands Like Houses in all of the right ways, but this isn’t the untamed exuberance of the band’s debut – Dissonants is full of focused aggression. On “Perspectives” and “Colourblind”, programming elements fit neatly within the song’s structure, adding depth and texture, while clunky breakdowns are replaced with crisp guitar riffs. Woodley occasionally reaches into his back pocket for a timely scream, but never forces the issue.
You really get a feel for the band’s confidence on tracks like “New Romantics” and “Glasshouse” – two songs that showcase each member’s strengths. “Glasshouse” rips through the speakers with flashy guitar work and brooding vocals from Woodley that explode as the chorus begins, “I was safe, I was brave / Until the sky collapsed on me”. “New Romantics” is anchored by an absolutely wicked bassline from Joel Tyrell, providing a powerful underbelly to one of the best songs the band has written.
While Dissonants is truly assertive in its will to rock, Hands Like Houses still find plenty of space to shift gears. On “Stillwater”, one of the album’s standouts, Matt Parkitny’s drums liven a gorgeous alt-rock adventure. It’s a patient track with a swirling chorus that sheds away labels like “post-hardcore” and elevates the band above their peers. There are very few bands in the current Warped Tour scene possessing the skillset to write such a uniquely accessible song, one that bends a band away from categorization while offering a wide appeal.
“Motion Sickness” slows things down with a pleasant change of pace and beautiful guitar tones, while “Degrees of Separation” manages to be one of the fastest paced songs on the record thanks to its danceable beat. Even tracks like “Division Symbols” and “Momentary”, which sound slightly like Unimagine holdovers, don’t sound overly out of place within the record.
While Hands Like Houses have trimmed the unnecessary fat, leaving behind the core elements of a solid rock album, they haven’t lost their identity. Something that sets the band apart from many in their scene is their focus on community and the idea that our journeys are not independent of one another, but are instead a collective one.
As on previous records, Woodley regularly exchanges pronouns like “I” and “me” with “we” and “us.” On “Colourblind”, he insists that the divisive differences that set us against one another are not insurmountable, claiming, “We are the sickness and the symptom and the cure”. On “Stillwater”, Woodley warns against the reckless building of walls and the constant threat that time poses to our respective empires, singing, “How did we get so old and never notice? / How did we gain the world and lose the moment? / Rise and fall / The tide surrounds us and drowns us all”.
These ideas are not unique to Dissonants, but are littered throughout the Hands Like Houses discography. However, never has the band’s message been so purposefully and artfully delivered as it is here. Dissonants has elevated the band above the self-absorbed mire below, both in purpose and in musical ability. Hands Like Houses are no longer a band on the verge – they’re leading the way.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.