Review Summary: A youthful and jubilant execution justifies not re-inventing the wheel in Hands Like Houses' first attempt.
Rise Records has a reputation of mediocrity at this point. They crank out bands at record pace, very few of which stand out. But every once in a while, they'll produce something of a wonder. We've seen it with Of Machines, DGD, Transit, but now, along comes Hands Like Houses. Another post-hardcore band out of Australia, another post-hardcore band signing to Rise; let's be honest here. At first glance they're nothing special. But in their short time together, they have managed to craft a thrilling and fun collection of songs that never really break the mold, but excel in execution and musicianship.
The album fades into existence with glitchy electronics, synthetic bass, and joyous chimes as "Antarctica" comes to life. The first thing one notices is a reliance on electronics in this album, a theme that remains prevalent throughout all eleven songs. They aren't the overdone, filthy dubstep drops randomly thrown into metalcore breakdowns, they aren't slapped onto the surface of existing songs to give the keyboardist a purpose. No, they are weaved throughout the structure of the songs, they are a vital component to the success of this album. They aren't overdone, they aren't underused, bobbing in and out of songs when it feels relevant, they form a tone of this album. A very youthful, blissful tone. One example of this is the breakdown in the latter half of "Watchmaker", where the crushing chug of guitars are complimented beautifully by almost sitar-like, or Middle Eastern toned electronics, creating one of the more memorable breakdowns of the year, and the album, as they are used sparingly and appropriately. A better example of the use of computerized instruments is "The Definition of Not Leaving" in its entirety. Ambient, sweeping sounds of glitching keyboards and synthesizers take the place of any previously used instruments as dreamy vocals drive the song along. Which brings us to another strong point of this album, vocals.
Woodley's leading vocals quickly become another prominent feature of the album. Coming in at a middle-high range, his fast paced singing rarely holds runs, instead jumping sporadically in pitch, in a manner similar to that of Tyler Carter (ex. Woe, Is Me) or other R&B artists. Very rarely is there a dull moment in the vocal department. At times, the lyrics performed may be a bit unintelligible and drowned out by over-production of the instruments, but for the most part, Woodley's voice is clean and crisp.
When it comes to the instruments, they far too often serve as a wall of sound to back the vocals. This is done in part by over-production that is all too common in the industry. It's a shame, for if the listener strains their ear enough, the racing drums and clashing guitars compliment each other very well. This would have to be the biggest flop of the album, not through fault of the band, but rather the producer. Still, it's hard to overlook and pulls this album down from what could have potentially made it a post-hardcore classic. Another result in this is an almost completely inaudible bass, a seemingly growing trend in bands such as this. But live performances and close inspection shows that the instrumentation is truly solid and well performed.
The lyrics are a bit of a wonder as well. While rhyming is sparse and lyrical speed is inconsistent in the jumpy, urgent feel of the album, it's easy to almost completely overlook this, as the sound comes off strong nonetheless. I often struggle as a listener to pick up on lyrics easily, but a trained ear or internet lyrics reveal a complex infrastructure of song-wide metaphors, and references to classic films (e.g. Peter Pan in "Antarctica, Where The Wild Things Are in "The Definition of Not Leaving", Inception in "Spineless Crow"). They are rather confusing at first look, but further inspection and band interviews reveals themes that make complete sense with the lyrics. Themes such as in-over-your-head youthfulness in "Antarctica", wondrous romance in "One-Hundred", the importance of lovers in "The Sower" only drive the jubilant feel of the album deeper and deeper, as there are very few dark moments in this album.
As a whole, the album is fast paced and jubilant. Even the breakdowns make you want to smile brilliantly as much as they make you want to headbang. Songs travel at near breakneck pace; even the "interludes" of songs are fast and carry purpose, as opposed to being slow and dull. Almost every song is pretty solid and sturdy, but the glitchy ballad "The Definition of Not Leaving", the crushing "Watchmaker", and the epic-feeling "Lion Skin" seem to stand out the most. The album does very little to re-invent the wheel, but the electronic focus and wonderful execution are forces to be reckoned with when it comes to quality. All in all the album is a solid, refreshing work, with the drawback of generic, unfortunate production. The talent is visible here, and for a first work; Hands Like Houses is destined to do great things in the scene.
TRIED to be far more objective than my last review. Pardon me if it still sounds very fanboyish, but it's hard not to be when you're passionate about certain bands and works. One of my favorite albums of all time.
very well written review, aside from a few grammar/punctuation errors.
"Another post-hardcore band out of Australia, another post-hardcore band signing to Rise; let's be honest here. At first glance they're nothing special.
should rather be: Another post hardcore band out of Australia, another post hardcore band singing to Rise. Let's be honest here; at first glance, they're nothing special.
"The first thing one notices is a reliance on electronics"
try to avoid the use of the word "one". it is far too ambiguous and leaves the reader much to wonder about who you would be referring to specifically. maybe say "the first thing the listener would notice"
"No, they are weaved throughout the structure of the songs, they are a vital component to the success of this album."
could be cut down to "No, they are weaved throughout the structure of the songs, a vital component to the success (maybe sound?) of this album"
"They aren't overdone, they aren't underused, bobbing in and out of songs when it feels relevant, they form a tone of this album. A very youthful, blissful tone."
once again, a bit messy. "They aren't overdone, they aren't underused, but rather directional, bobbing in and out of songs when relevant. They form a tone, a very youthful, blissful tone"
there probably are more like these in the review but i'll leave it to you to find out.
They truly do! It's just hard to expect crisp production out of a Rise band. Too often, it's blurry and muddled with the bands they sign. BUT, seeing them live, they have incredible potential. I mean; they're almost spot on and the instruments don't bleed together into a massive wall of sound like they do in the album.
oh, forgot to add something; the review does read quite juvenile at times, purely based on your choice of words and tone of the review. you should consider reviewing an album you don't feel too strongly about to give you an idea on how to be more professional
TO EACH HIS OWN. I enjoyed it a lot and tried to justify that, even if it was incredibly subjective and fanboyish. That's my goal with these, to talk about why I liked it and didn't, sorry to everyone if they're not as objective as they could be. Everyone's ear is different.
Great review, especially for a second - excellent use of detail, some snappy rhetoric. Found the
album to be catastrophically awful. The odd snatch of vocals sort of approached OK, but then veered
away, possibly out of mercy for the rest of the music.
"No, they are weaved throughout the structure of the songs, they are a vital component to the
success of this album."
could be cut down to "No, they are weaved throughout the structure of the songs, a vital component
to the success (maybe sound?) of this album"
This is bizarre advice. The syntax in the suggested sentence is messed up; it states that the structure of the songs is the vital component to the success of the album. If you wanted to
tighten the sentence up and still have it make sense, it should read: they weave throughout the
fabric of the music, forming a vital thread of the album's success.
"Another post-hardcore band out of Australia, another post-hardcore band signing to Rise;
let's be honest here. At first glance they're nothing special.
should rather be: Another post hardcore band out of Australia, another post hardcore band singing to
Rise. Let's be honest here; at first glance, they're nothing special.
No, it rather shouldn't. It should read: Another post-hardcore band out of Australia; another
post-hardcore band signing to Rise. Let's be honest here: at first glance, they're nothing special.
And there's nothing wrong with the hyphen in 'post-hardcore' - plenty of professional sites, and
even the print media, write the tag that way.
You're no more fanboyish than everyone else on here, barring one of two near-professional writers.
Keep up the good work and don't take advice from people who write at a lower standard than yourself.
I agree with your review completely. The production is the worst part of the album. Those guitars sound so good, I want to be able to clearly hear what they are playing.. but your right.. its like a wall of noise. Vocals are great, and I enjoy the synths as well. Good review.