Review Summary: ”My shit sounds like...Failure, with Smokey Robinson singing. You should think about that.”
As ‘11th Street’, the fourth track of The Dream
draws to a close, its last chord falling quickly to silence, there is the universally recognisable beep of an answer-phone message. The message is brief, with the singer/guitarist and founding member of Open Hand, Justin Isham, asking if the person is ‘around’, and then rather seriously informing the recipient that he has been ‘figuring *** out’. His obvious self-assuredness leads him to make the above claim, and quite a claim it is, too. While their commercial success was limited to say the least, Failure were a critically acclaimed alt rock outfit that earned a devout following during their short career. And Smokey Robinson is without a doubt one of the most iconic artists to ever point their lips at a microphone; countless appearances in film and television soundtracks meaning that even those unfamiliar with the name will recognise the music and flawlessly smooth tenor. So, the question is: can Open Hand live up to this claim? The answer, rather amazingly, is a resounding and very near ‘almost’.
Isham’s comparison with his own work and Failure’s is realistic, to a point; but where Failure were firmly alt rock with a dirty tinge of grunge adding a sulky adulthood to their songs, Open Hand are distinctly post-hardcore/emo, their music infused with a bright, punky adolescence. This vibrancy; this youthfulness
, does not prove to be a hindrance, however, in the construction of their songs. In fact, for a debut album, there is remarkable potential displayed, with relatively complex song structures benefiting from a wonderful attention to detail. The interchange between the guitarists creates a constantly shifting vista that is often deeply atmospheric, occasionally bordering on the cleverly created textures of progressive music. Distinctive, dramatic and often refreshingly simple riffs rise and fall over driving chord progressions creating a powerful and consistent melodicism within the record; all of which is whisked along by the brilliantly energetic drumming which loses none of its power by being kept low in the overall mix. Even Isham’s claim to sound like Smokey Robinson is proven to be a useful comparison, his voice carrying with it an almost ethereal quality that allows him to soar above the music at times. And what he lacks in range compared to Robinson is more than made up for in the strength of his attack, which adds beauty and power to the predominately boy-loves-girl lyrics.
Sadly, the album is wildly unbalanced. The first half seems to display an almost obsessive attention to detail and the songs sound fully formed, albeit the work of a new band still finding their feet; but the latter half is much weaker, with songs containing nice ideas that seem disconnected from one another. Lush chords and sweet singing abound, but without the confidence and concentration of the first five songs. The Dream
remains a missed opportunity, then: an album which begins with great promise but ultimately withers by the end. Open Hand proved to be far more consistent in their second full length offering, You and Me
, but what at least half of The Dream
can offer, to any emo or post hardcore fan, is an exceptional EP that so very nearly lives up to its creator’s description.
In Your Eyes
Life As Is
This Is The End