Review: Hands Like Houses – Dissonants

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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.

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You can buy Dissonants on iTunes.

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.

4.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

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Review: Hands Like Houses – Reimagine

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Hands Like Houses have a knack for doing the unexpected. Ever since the Australian rockers made their Rise Records debut with 2012’s Ground Dweller, the band has set themselves apart with an infectiously melodic sound that borders on heavy without succumbing to faux breakdowns or typical scene conventions.

Instead, Hands Like Houses have paved their own path of aggressive rock mixed with ambient, electronic elements and spacey passages – a sound that came to full fruition on last year’s Unimagine. Now, the band has taken the opportunity to revisit that album and re-imagine five of its tracks for their new EP titled, well, Reimagine.

The release is akin to the band’s Snow Sessions, a 2012 live outdoor acoustic recording of select songs from Ground Dweller. However, where Snow Sessions passed as a simple acoustic take on those songs, Reimagine digs deeper, utilizing far more elements and stretching outside the bounds of what one might consider a simple acoustic recording.

The EP kicks off with “recollect” a new version of Unimagine’s heaviest track, “Shapeshifters”. The song feels almost completely new, sidestepping its former upbeat pace in place of a patient, calm soft rock movement. The track features both electric and acoustic guitars, a groovy bassline and a notable lack of hurry. Instead, the light instrumentation helps the song float along at a pleasant pace.

For a band known for their crescendos and crashing moments, this opening track is an unexpected shift that highlights a completely new and surprisingly delightful side of the band. As the EP progresses, the beauty lies in the band’s ability to capture each song’s meaning within its new context.

“revive (Introduced Species)”, a song of birth and new beginnings, features wonderful, warm percussion amidst its new bouncy sound. “rediscover (No Parallels)”, a song of joy, features sweet strumming guitars and backing whistles behind the song’s bright chorus.

Another notable difference on Reimagine is vocalist Trenton Woodley’s choice to pull back the reigns. Noted for his soaring upper register and powerful voice, Woodley chooses restraint during most of the EP, saving himself for only the most powerful moments.

It’s not until the fourth track that Woodley lets loose, during the pain and confusion of “release (A Tale of Outer Suburbia)” as he sings, “So I roar, pin back my ears and stone by stone / I’ll tear it all, I’ll tear it apart”. The song, which now lives as an echo-y stripped down shell, seems to rattle amidst its surroundings as Woodley howls.

It’s these sorts of moments – the payoffs that we’re so accustomed to no longer wait for – that set Hands Like Houses apart from their peers. A band with true musical talent and an ear for real melody and song structure that’s able to strip their songs bare and rebuild them as something completely new and just as engaging. If only there were more bands willing to take these sorts of chances in this scene.

“reflect (Developments)”, now no longer a burning opening track but a quiet, atmospheric closing number, captures the gentle heart lying beneath the original song and brings things to a peaceful close. Reimagine is a wonderful bonus for fans of Hands Like Houses who have come to expect these sorts of unexpected turns.

To revisit your own songs and come away with what sounds like brand new material is truly a feat. It surely won’t be their last.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.

Hands Like Houses release “Introduced Species” live music video

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Aussie rockers Hands Like Houses have released a live music video for their song “Introduced Species”. The song is the first single from last year’s sophomore album Unimagine on Rise Records. Check out the video below:

Hands Like Houses are currently gearing up to accompany Chiodos on their upcoming spring tour. If you haven’t bought it already, you can purchase Unimagine on iTunes.