Review Summary: With founding member Alex Koehler gone to focus on Chelsea Grin, Hearts & Hands produces a quality record that their self-titled EP showed they had the potential to make.
In 2010, ‘Chelsea Grin’ guitar tech Alex Lyman and ‘Becoming Everest’ vocalist Garrett Garfield recorded a track together titled ‘You’re Not Alone’. Upon being shown the track, infamous ‘Chelsea Grin’ frontman Alex Koehler was asked to contribute screamed vocals to counter Garfield’s cleans. Thus, ‘Hearts & Hands' was born, essentially as a Chelsea Grin side project. The band released an average self-titled EP in 2012, and Koehler promptly left to focus on ‘Chelsea Grin’. Flash forward to fall 2013, the Koehler-less ‘Hearts & Hands’ continue on and quietly release their debut full-length album ‘My Own Machine’ on Artery Recordings with the goal of combining metal, pop and electronic elements into an eclectic and original mix.
The album opens with an electronic and piano heavy introduction. Faint voices proclaim that they are “the chosen ones” repeatedly. Within seconds, the listener will take note of the excellent production and mixing, as is the standard for most of Artery Recording’s newest releases. The intro fades seamlessly into the albums’ strongest and opening track “The Chosen Ones”. Garrett Garfield delivers his lines with incredible range, strength and precision. Again, taking notice of the great production, Garfield’s vocals are double-layered where it’s appropriate to be, and they stand alone where they need to. Not having a screamer present to steal Garrett’s spotlight anymore only benefits the listener.
Garfield's lyrics are great, although a bit repetitive and unoriginal at a few points during the span of the album’s 42 minute runtime. Dealing with typical subjects such as women, love, and suicide, the lyrical content of ‘My Own Machine’ is mostly fantastic, but sometimes hit-or-miss. Whereas a great line such as “So quit running all your life trying to leave your past behind / realize your future won’t have time to care about the shadows and the demons you left behind” will stick with the listener, lines that they’ve heard a thousand times over like the repeated “Breathe and close your eyes / so take your chances before you die” and “We are the chosen / we are the chosen ones” may go in one ear and out the other. While a few lyrics lack in originality, they’re all very appropriate for the style of music complementing them. There’s nothing that groundbreaking or deep to be found here lyrically, it’s Garfield’s performance on ‘My Own Machine’ that is the highlight.
In the beginning of the album’s third track ‘Close Your Eyes’, drummer Chris Suitt treats the listener by playing very tightly and proficiently alongside Lyman’s soaring guitar work. The drums on this song and the release as a whole are close to perfect. They are subdued where the music calls for them to be, and fast and energetic where they can be. They lie within a very happy medium; not too high in the overall mix, and not too low either. The bass drum packs a powerful enough punch (or kick) to be heard, but not too much to sound over-produced, fake, or clicky; something founding member Alex Koehler’s band so often falls victim to.
Speaking of which, Alex Lyman must have had a very nice release from the constant chugs of ‘Chelsea Grin’ when recording ‘My Own Machine’. His performance on this record mostly consists of soloing and noodling in the higher register of the guitar almost the whole song, rather than the streams of constant 0’s and 1’s he’s so familiar in dealing with. The album isn’t completely devoid of chugs, however. Rhythm guitarist Chris Kim delivers his fair share of them, however they work very well and only complement Lyman’s higher, cleaner notes with lower, distorted ones. Both guitars have great tones; Lyman’s lead is crisp and buttery and Kim’s rhythm is heavy with a great muddiness to it. Lyman’s aforementioned noodling throughout entire songs might sound unpleasant when described in words, but in practice, it’s actually very appropriate and sounds fantastic. Fletcher Howell’s bass doesn't announce itself in the mix, but if you look for it, you’ll find it adds serious depth to the wonderfully produced mix of ‘My Own Machine’.
Overall, ‘My Own Machine’ is a very solid and horribly underrated release by a band most may only know as “Alex Koehler’s side project”. ‘My Own Machine’s rock solid production, tight, expert drums, great lyrics, and fitting guitar work propel this album to be one of Artery’s better releases by one of their better bands.