Review Summary: Trick question: try and find a more phenomenal debut from such a young band. Answer: you just can't...
Hands Like Houses’ relatively short (not even 6-year) existence has been one of continuous blessings. Forming as So Long Safety in 2006, the band’s debut EP and first live shows served to introduce audiences to their impassioned blend of soaring, Tyler Carter-esque vocals, tight-knit rhythmic sections and rich, perfectly measured soundscapes. But that was just the beginning. Heading to the USA in 2010 to record an EP, the band returned in 2011 to complete it, in the process extending it to a full-length album. Hence Ground Dweller. With only two songs released and a small but powerful live show under their belt, the band managed to garner an incredible amount of hype and anticipation for Ground Dweller – more than has almost ever been seen for a debut album from an unknown band. But enough of the biography.
Moving on to the music, Hands Like Houses almost defy belief. That such a young band could have this amount of musical talent and lyrical smarts in addition to already having the sort of close bond that it takes some bands decades to form, is simply unbelievable. From vocals that put Jonny Craig to shame to a rhythm section that neither dominates nor disappears into the music, every member of the band compliments one another while also doing their own thing, and doing it well. It’s a type of sound that can’t be formed through practise or skill, it’s either there or it isn’t.
As for those who like to judge music by genre, HLH don’t attempt to create a new sound, just sort of blur the line between two existing ones. They tread a sort of line between post-hardcore without screaming or breakdowns and alternative rock with technicality. The sort of territory Emarosa and such bands have nearly trodden before, but not quite. Certain songs, the more mainstream ones such as “Antarctica” and “One Hundred”, may certainly call Emarosa to mind – but for the most part, The Receiving End of Sirens are the main influence to be found on Ground Dweller, especially on the atmospheric short track “A Definition of Not Leaving”, which forcibly reminds the listener of TREOS masterpiece “Stay Small”, and stands out as one of the best from the album.
So, does Ground Dweller actually have any flaws" Well, yes, but only small ones. As mentioned above, Hands Like Houses recorded a quarter (or thereabouts) of this album in 2010 before doing the rest in 2011, and at some points it really does show. The album’s lowest point is the not-good-but-not-bad “One Hundred”, a song that has its roots in the band’s early demos. The simple fact is, some of the album is just fresher, smarter and better than the older parts, and it suffers for it.
So apart from the occasional circumstance where newer tunes would have been preferable to older ones reworked, we basically have perfection. In fact, if you’re really looking hard for something to complain about, it would be that Ground Dweller is so damn good that it may just cast a shadow over the band’s future music. It’s happened to great bands before, and will again. But it’s much too early to judge what the band will sound like in future, so let’s just enjoy what we have in the present.