Review Summary: Hands Like Houses take the sound of Unimagine to more radio friendly reaches.
I never really caught on to what everyone saw in Hands Like Houses’ debut Ground Dweller
. Certainly, I understood that the band had potential in their surprisingly technical and varied approach to contemporary post hardcore and focus on Trenton Woodley’s vocals. However, Ground Dweller
was really lacking in a lot of areas, primarily in a serious lack of memorable songwriting and a production job somehow both over and underdone. By contrast their follow-up Unimagine
was a sleeper hit. Trenton Woodley found a sweet spot with his range (originally it felt like he stretched too far out of his zone on the debut), the band finally brought some hooks with them, and there was an almost willfully ignored depth to many of the songs even if they didn’t have the flashy technicality of Ground Dweller
. With album number three, Dissonants
, fans wondered if Hands Like Houses would revive the approach they used on the debut and meld it with their second self on Unimagine
. The result is not…well not that.
If anything, Dissonants
takes the sound of Unimagine
and simplifies it even more. Virtually the entire album uses basic rock/pop structuring to push forward Woodley’s vocals, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering his talent. Unfortunately, the instrumentation often lacks flavor after losing keyboardist Jamal Sabet and the lead guitar work is mysteriously toned down to boot. Admirably, Woodley’s vocals are good enough to carry a lot of the album. If there’s one thing the band didn’t forget to bring to the table, it’s hooks. As watered down as these songs can feel, most of them remain quite memorable. Opening track and leadoff single “I Am” is still a bold standout for instance. And hell, fans weren’t totally off the mark thinking some aggression would come back with this album, as evidenced by pounding breakdowns like the one in the back half of “I Am”.
The band’s approach to atmosphere and melody does seep in enough that Dissonants
feels wholly theirs, but that often just serves to remind us that they can do better. Dissonants
is a catchy, melodic, and entertaining slice of vaguely artsy, mostly radio friendly alt rock that smells queerly of wasted potential. An ideal melding of past successes this may not be, but it’s acceptable as it is.