Hands Like Houses – Unimagine
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: July 23 2013
If you’re heavily into post-hardcore or metalcore music, you most likely know that Rise Records is a rather notorious label for signing these types of bands. Honestly, there’s even a name for it – “Risecore.” It’s a rather silly name, but it refers to bands who are generic and cliché “core,” who employ breakdowns at every turn, have one too many clean choruses, and lyrics that are hateful, profane, or an attempt at being “inspirational.” The latter kind of lyrics I appreciate, but they often come across as cheesy and cliché. Well, while Rise has diversified their roster in the last couple years, they still have that reputation. Thankfully, there are a few bands that Rise have signed in the genre that stand out above the rest, one of which being Canberra, Australia six-piece Hands Like Houses. This band came to my attention towards the end of 2011 with a pair of singles, “Lion Skin (feat Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter)” and “This Ain’t No Place for Animals.” These songs later appeared on debut record Ground Dweller, which was one of the most interesting records I’ve ever heard, personally. It was due in part to their overall sound. Their “core” sound is post-hardcore, yet they also included a nice mix of progressive rock and experimental influences as well, all without any harsh vocals whatsoever. That’s a wonderful thing, because vocalist Trenton Woodley has one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. Not only in post-hardcore, but in general. On paper, Ground Dweller seemed like a great idea, and when the record was released, it was executed wonderfully.
There was, however, one major problem I had with it, and still have with it – it became too derivative at certain points, and no songs really stood out, minus a couple. It all sounded like a forty-minute song. They had way too much going on in their sound, and ultimately, it ran together a bit. It was very enjoyable and energetic, but they were a bit too ambitious for their own good. Needless to say, it was clear when the band first released the record that they weren’t going anywhere. They had a sense of poise and eloquence to them that the genre was (and still is) severely lacking. Their very abstract and imaginative lyrics paired with Woodley’s vocals, along with the rest of the band really made for something special. While Ground Dweller fell short in some places, it was a very solid debut record that made people even more excited for their sophomore record, which eventually became Unimagine.
If there’s one thing I have to say about this record upfront, it’s that they’ve taken everything that bogged them down and improved on it. Their last album was a bit too ambitious, so it became rather clustered and confusing after awhile, but Unimagine is completely the opposite. It’s still ambitious, don’t get me wrong, but they’ve made their sound much more concise. The biggest problem with Ground Dweller was that the songs weren’t quite memorable. They all had a similar sound, whereas Unimagine really turns that around, and every song is memorable in some way. There are songs that serve as a “throwback” to their earlier work, such as lead single “Introduced Species,” and there are softer songs, such as “Oceandust,” a piano ballad, which they’ve never really done before. They went out of their comfort zone for this release, and unlike most bands who attempt to do something a bit different, whether it’s different in general or for themselves, Hands Like Houses really succeeds.
Going along with that, everything else has really improved as well, from Woodley’s vocals to the overall instrumentation. Everything has gotten much better. On Ground Dweller, it felt as though Woodley was holding back, almost like Fall Out Boy vocalist Patrick Stump on their first couple records. His voice is beautiful, and unique for the genre (just like Stump’s vocals being in a pop-punk band), yet I felt as though he was holding back for that record. On Unimagine, however, he lets loose, and his voice is superb here. Even when the record slows down on songs like “Oceandust,” and “The House You Built,” his voice is just as powerful, because the focus of the song is on him. Yes, the backing instrumentation is important, but it’s his voice that takes center stage for a few tracks. His lyrics also have improved a lot as well. His lyrics were really abstract and poetic on Ground Dweller, and that definitely spills into this record, but the lyrics are also a bit more straightforward and relatable, such as on fourth track, “Shapeshifters,” which is the closest thing that Hands Like Houses have written to a love song, with lyrics like, “You’re my muse and you’re my masterpiece, my canvas and my chemistry, my magic and my mystery, my haven, you’re my heaven and my heart.” The poetic nature of their lyrics really sucks me into their sound and the record itself. It’s no different with Unimagine, and it’s nice to hear lyrics that aren’t talking down to women or being insanely preachy.
The instrumentation itself, however, has also improved immensely. Rhythm guitarist Alexander Pearson keeps the record moving forward, just as he did on Ground Dweller, but every song doesn’t sound the same. He, along with lead guitarist, Matt Cooper, manage to create an atmosphere throughout the album that really drive the record forward. Keyboardist Jamal Sebet also contributes to this atmosphere as well, with his nice dose of electronics. The electronic aspect is never obnoxious, or overbearing as some bands tend to utilize it. In fact, every band member helps to create the world of Unimagine. Instead of this band copying other bands, or sounding like every other “core” band in existence, Hands Like Houses attempts and succeeds at standing above them and being one of the most unique bands in the genre.
The saddest thing is, however, bands like Sleeping With Sirens and Pierce the Veil are always going to outshine a band like this. They aren’t terrible bands, but they’re the most generic bands in the genre. Sleeping With Sirens new album Feel sold 60, 000 copies in its first week, which made it the highest selling record in Rise’s history, and first record for the label to debut in the top ten on the Billboard 200. Hands Like Houses doesn't fit the typical image of these kinds of bands, so despite being insanely talented and wonderful, they won’t get the exposure they deserve, which is quite a shame. If there is one thing that I didn’t like about this album, it’s that a couple songs do tend to be rather forgettable, but either way, this record is a huge step up from Ground Dweller. Their sound is much more concise, every song is memorable, and everything has just generally improved. It’s hard for bands to truly improve, because how do they know what they need to improve on, if they either won’t listen, or don’t know? This is the best case of a band seeing what they needed to work on, and actually working on it, resulting in one of the most refreshing records I’ve heard in a very long time. If Ground Dweller planted their feet on the ground of post-hardcore, Unimagine is the album that propels them to the sky.