Hands Like Houses - Unimagine
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: July 23, 2013
So, I wrote a review for Hands Like Houses's debut Ground Dweller last year when it came out. I gave it a pretty high rating, but over time, it seemed to wear off on me. I may have been a bit hyperbolic calling it one of the best debuts I've ever heard... because it honestly wasn't. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good album, but not top. It was a good start for them, though, and they gained a considerable amount of fans from the record. I was a bit surprised when they decided to go back into the studio not a year later. I had my concerns that they were rushing it, but if they felt ready, who am I to question?
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much. The dreaded sophomore slump had been a famous plague for so long and derailed many bands' careers. Still, though, I preordered the album because I consider myself a fan of the band. Unimagine, to my surprise, is a very musically sound and coherent album, from start to finish. Surprise is a redundant choice of words, but I can't really describe it other than that (shock, maybe?).
What they decided to do was build up on the sound, showing signs of maturity beyond what a normal band's trajectory would call for. To see what I'm talking about, I'll compare two of their singles, "This Ain't No Place for Animals" from Ground Dweller, and "Introduced Species," from this album. Both have the similar breakdown-ish sort of riff that carry the songs, similar synth lines. The latter, however, in my opinion, is far better than its predecessor. The lyricism has improved drastically; the first lines "In a way we are all connected/threaded together/In a way we are all suspended/bound going nowhere" sets the worldly tone of the song. The drum, my God the drum work, has gotten way better. The fills are pretty creative and the beats are well placed. Trenton sounds much more polished than before, and his voice isn't as processed.
The album starts off with a haunting synth line in "Developments" before taking off with a nice guitar lead. That's the thing, though, subtlety, something I felt their debut lacked. The verses are carried by a really cool marimba/xylophone (anyone want to confirm the instrument for me?) and allows Trent's lower-register to shine. The chorus is soaring and is absolutely great. "Weight" does something similar, and in a 3/4 time signature (something that is common in this record), keeps things interesting. You can tell the sextet really spent time working on their buildups and what to put where. It's a very musical record, pardon the cliche.
They've been listening to a LOT of pop-punk, too, which is my favorite genre. "Shapeshifters" is a prime example of this, and is sure to be a live-staple. The chorus sings emphatically, "we will be unbreakable," giving an aura of positivity.
Unimagine isn't without its flaws though; "The House You Built" felt like it tried too hard to be anthemic, and it honestly felt like too much was going on. This is a problem that plagued their debut ("Lion Skin," specifically). That's about it, as far as flaws go. The next two songs are considerably slower, being "A Tale of Outer Suburbia" and "Oceandust." The former has a very slow and dramatic buildup that could have been a pretty good closer (we'll get to that in a bit). "Oceandust" is a piano/acoustic ballad, that allows Trenton's vocals to seem vulnerable, something that is pretty difficult to do in ballads.
One of my favorites is "No Parallels," which follows the same theme of positivity, which outlines what it means to be happy. Everything comes together very well, and gives me goosebumps at every listen. "Fountainhead" and "Wisteria" sound like they could have been bonus tracks on Ground Dweller, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. They're both solid tracks, that lead into an amazing close, "A Fire on a Hill."
So, in my review of HLH's debut album, I gave "The Sower," the closer, a perfect rating, and the trend continues there. It's a rather haunting piece, lead by some great lead guitar work. Trenton is basically whispering in the verses, before hitting his signature sound in the chorus. I absolutely love this song for so many reasons: the gang shouts, the 5-minute length, the instrumentation, the creepy-sounding piano work in the pre-verses. There's one part in particular, which goes into the aforementioned piano, then cymbal buildup into a bell hit, sudden stop, gang vocals, then the final chorus. It's a perfect end to an amazing song. It's one of the best closers I've heard all years and... I'm impressed.
Impressed would be an understatement; this album completely shocked me. I was expecting a follow up to Ground Dweller, but what I got instead is an effort done by a band years ahead of where they should be. They carefully crafted a great lyrical, musical, and productive effort that can only do them well. If this album doesn't serve as a breakthrough for Hands Like Houses, I will be disappointed.
Will this be an album of the year contender? Maybe, maybe not. 2013 has been a fantastic year for music, and for a sophomore album to stand out (similar to The Story so Far's What You Don't See) is huge accomplishment. Great work, and hopefully this isn't their opus, because they have such a bright future.
Introduced Species: 9/10
The House You Built: 5/10
A Tale of Outer Suburbia: 8/10
No Parallels: 9/10
A Fire on a Hill: 10/10
This review isn't bad, this album is what I thought the debut would sound like if it weren't for their awful label's choices. I was pleased with hearing this album because of how much better the quality of everything was and how much of a step up it was from the last album (which imo wasn't very good).