Hands Like Houses - Ground Dweller
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Rise Records decides to sign a new band; you have your typical Rise fans all over them, you have the Rise "haters" bashing them, and then there are those in the middle, like myself. We like a lot of Rise Records products (in my case, Dance Gavin Dance, A Loss for Words, Transit) and dislike some. When Australia's Hands Like Houses signed to Rise, I was a little weary, as the only song I could hear was a poor-quality demo of "Lion Skin" featuring Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter (of Woe is Me). They would later release two songs, entitled "This Ain't No Place For Animals" and "Antarctica," the latter of which excited me because for the first time I saw their potential. I decided to a little research upon hearing "Antarctica" and looked at their acoustic videos on Youtube, all of which I enjoyed. Their sound was eclectic, but blended nicely. You could tell that the band was in sync, but just because a stripped down version of your song sounds fine it doesn't necessarily translate well to a full-band album. Enter Ground Dweller, the first full-length LP from Hands Like Houses.
The album starts off with a song I already mentioned, "Antarctica." The opener has a haunting intro followed by lead vocalist Trenton's soothing vocals. The track soon kicks your ass with a heavy drum track and great guitar riffs. It's one of my favorites on the album, with very metaphorical lyrics such as "Little boys with dreams of paper planes were never meant to scrape the sky/Keep your feet on the ground kid, only birds were meant to fly." It's more of a tale, which depicts someone leaving everything behind to pursue his goals, and failing miserably. It has a cynical tone as the beginning, but takes an optimistic approach by the end. The next song is "Don't Look Now, I'm Being Followed, Act Normal" which takes a Dance Gavin Dance influence in the guitars. It's a good track, but definitely not as good as the first track. There's some gang vocals, which I usually find silly, but HLH makes it work.
"This Ain't No Place For Animals" is more electronic-based, and when it was first released, I had mixed feelings towards it. I still have the same view on it, because it isn't necessarily a BAD track, but I feel the synth overshadows Trentonl's vocals. The breakdown in the song sounds nice and they blend nice, but it still didn't save the song. They bounce back nicely with "Spineless Crow," which starts off with subtle but effective strings. The tone of the song is more creepy and dark-sounding, and it does its job. The vocals are good, but I want to commend the guitar for being able to carry the message and idea of the song.
We get back to the heavy sound with "Starving To Death In The Belly Of A Whale," a track that features some pretty crazy drum fills, courtesy of drummer Matty P. He does an excellent job of keeping the tempo throughout, and although what he plays is relatively complicated, it doesn't take away from the rest of the members. The next track, "A Clown with his Pipe" has a very old-school intro. I loved it, and at the moment I really can't remember what it reminds me of, but it made me really excited. Afterwards, we have a semi-interlude, which is just an electronic-vocal track. It's decent, but is almost out of place.
Now we come to the home stretch of Ground Dweller, and we hit perhaps their most popular song "Lion Skin," which features Jonny Craig (Dance Gavin Dance) and Tyler Carter (Woe is Me). It's not as good as some of its predecessors, but it's still a very good track. It's a pace-changer, which is nice when you're trying to keep your album diverse. I will say this: the guitar riffs are just awesome. Cooper and Alex Pearson sound good together. "One Hundred" is probably the most mainstream-sounding track here. The guitar solo is nice, but not overwhelming. It's a pretty conservative track, but a decent one too.
The electronics come back with "Watchmaker," which is one of the heaviest tracks on the record. The vocals probably make this song better than it actually is. The album closer, "The Sower," is probably my favorite. I heard the acoustic on Youtube much before they started gaining a following, and I fell in love with it. I was eager to see how the full-band version would be, and it far exceeded my expectations. The vocals are amazing, the song changes pace a lot, the drums are perfect, and the guitars put in an awesome mix of riffs and leads. The synth improves the song by its ambiance, rather than taking over. It's the only song not in 4/4 timing (it's in 3/4). Usually these waltz-type of songs can get boring, but "The Sower" has so much pure emotion behind the lyrics, the instrumentation, that it is a near-perfect way to close the album.
I really hope this review didn't make me seem like a fanboy of Hands Like Houses, because they do slip up a few times. They've been a band less than six years, and have a little more work to do. Do I think they've realized their potential? Definitely, and I think they can exceed that potential. It's been a long time since I've been a brand new band come out with such a debut. They literally came out of nowhere (most people in the US had never heard of them till they signed with Rise Records) and shocked me with this album. Ground Dweller is worth checking out, bottomline. I look forward to these guys in the future.
Don't Look Now, I'm Being Followed, Act Normal 8/10
This Ain't No Place For Animals 6/10
Spineless Crow 8.5/10
Starving To Death In The Belly Of A Whale 8.5/10
A Clown and his Pipe 9/10
The Definition of Not-Leaving 6.5/10
Lion Skin (Featuring Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter) 8/10
One Hundred 8.5/10
The Sower 10/10