Review Summary: We will be unbreakable!
When I heard that Australia sextet Hands Like Houses
would be signing to Rise Records before the release of their debut album Ground Dweller, I was skeptical. Having not heard the band yet, I thought they would be another run-of-the-mill, chuggy breakdown followed by pop-y chorus band that Rise is all too familiar with. Boy was I wrong. From the first time I hear Ground Dweller, I knew this band was going to be one to look out for. As good as it was however, their debut did have some issues. Most prominently was the production quality. Having recorded some of the tracks in 2011 and the rest in 2012, the album had an inconsistent feel to it. The spectacular vocals of Trenton Woodley were often buried in the barrage of instrumental chaos that was overlaying them.
Well fret not (guitar pun intended), because Unimagine fixes these issues and solidifies this band as one of Rise's best. When they released the first single "Introduced Species", it appeared they had taken a slightly different approach to their sophomore effort. They still bring all of the amazing instrumental prowess from Ground Dweller, as well as Woodley's astounding vocals, but Unimagine has something very crucial that their first album lacked. Simplicity. The tracks on Unimagine have room to breathe and are still just as technically impressive as Ground Dweller.
Starting off with "Developments", this album couldn't have opened with a better track. It really showcases how much this band has improved over the last year. Starting with a mellow keyboard intro, it quickly explodes into a beautiful opening riff from guitarist Matt Cooper. He and keyboardist Jamal Sabet really take the lead on this album, accompanying lead vocalist Woodley's soaring melodies throughout each track with a finesse that most bands their age lack. Drummer Matt Parkitney and rhythm and bass guitarists Alexander Pearson and Joel Tyrrell respectively, lay the foundation for the three formerly mentioned members to build on, and a solid foundation it is. These guys have really learned how to tighten their playing and work off of each other, as opposed to playing over each other.
They have also developed some incredibly catching choruses on this album, with songs like "Introduced Species" and "Shapeshifters" being stuck in my head long after I've heard them. This is refreshing to hear, as their previous album, while it had some great moments, was forgettable at times.
They also take a more mellow approach to a couple of tracks, namely "A Tale of Outer Suburbia" and "Oceandust". The latter, while a good effort, was my least favorite track on the album. It's made up for however by the final four songs on the album. While I won't go into each individually, "No Parallels", "Fountainhead", "Wisteria", and "A Fire on a Hill" are some of the best material I've heard this year, let alone from the band. Woodley's vocals on "A Fire on a Hill" are emotionally charged and his range is unmatched by most clean vocalists in the industry today.
All in all, while not perfect, Unimagine is a huge step up from Hands Like Houses previous album. It's albums like these that make me look forward to what's in store for the ever-redundant genre, and from what they've released so far, this band will be continually producing new and exciting material for years to come.