Hands Like Houses – -Anon.
Released: October 12th, 2018
Hands Like Houses lineup
Trenton Woodley // vocals
Matt Parkitny // drums
Matt Cooper // guitar
Joel Tyrell // bass
Alexander Pearson // guitar
Hands Like Houses are a slight anomaly in the scene – an Australian band, with what seems to be a significantly larger following outside of the country. Only in recent years have they started selling out medium-large headline tours of their own in this country (some of the most fun shows you’ll ever see) – and they’ve regularly opened for bands arguably with a smaller footprint (e.g. being the support act for In Hearts Wake who have half the fanbase, if you use Facebook as a measure).
It’s long been my opinion that they’re overdue for an explosion in popularity, with 2016’s Dissonants being a leap forward in both songwriting and style (for a quick example of the unique space it existed in, check out track 5, ‘Glasshouse’). The album boasted large, reverberating bass riffs, spacious, epic vocals, and tight, poppy melodic writing. With the musical impact I felt this album had, I was quite curious to see where their fourth outing, -Anon., would take us.
…in almost the complete other direction, in fact. And I couldn’t be more excited.
Sure, I would have loved to see them head even further into a Dissonants direction – but from the release of their first new single, ‘Overthinking’, it was immediately obvious that something new was coming. The released singles (which we’ll touch on later) all jumped in different directions, alluding to an album of increased genre disparity – and the end result is at worst fascinating…and at best, bold and refreshing.
Opening with a somewhat ‘intro’-sounding track, ‘Kingdom Come’, we’re introduced to a number of new sounds, which will all become familiar by the end of the album. Sparse guitars, backed with layered electronic sounds, complemented by curious vocal harmonies – these are all pieces which form, in a lot of ways, the backbone of the album. It’s a track that one can easily imagine the group opening a set with, with the audience happily shouting the lyrics in return.
From there we jump to the second track (and single), ‘Monster’. If there ever was a commercial rock radio-oriented track in their repertoire – this is it. And that’s not a diss on radio-friendly music (Triple M had Caligula’s Horse in rotation once) – simply a descriptor (also…I heard this track used during the NRL Grand Final…stadium rock, yes please). The track is high energy – distorted lead vocals, gang vocal-ed hooks, it’s a direction we’ve never heard from Hands Like Houses before. Heading into the third track, ‘Sick’, we opened with a strangely effect-ed guitar, into a fascinatingly functionally melodied lead vocal (seriously, we got unexpected major thirds all over the shop). It elevates a track that would have been ‘cool’ into something more unique, without resorting to production tricks (though there’s still a healthy dose of these throughout the album). I’m a fan of interesting songwriting in a poppy context, so I’m absolutely down with this. The fourth song and lead single, ‘Overthinking’, shows both the intriguingly evolved musical style this album contains, as well as a deeper lyrical direction. I’ve traditionally had nary an interest in lyrics – at best, I’ll sing along to them mindlessly, and at worst, I can barely tell you the lyrics to some of my favorite songs – so I’m not to claim to offer my expertise here…but I can tell you that the direction taken is a ‘real’-er one than we’ve heard previously. It’s almost as if we’re hearing a story told through frontman Trenton Woodley‘s mouth.
Track 5, ‘Through Glass’, is a completely different direction – less energetic, and more vibey. Upon my first listen, I wasn’t too convinced – but it quickly grew on me. I think high-energy bands often need a ‘rest’ song or two (this is not HLH’s first) – and this one that I’m keen to experience live. This also isn’t meant as a diss against the track (relegating it to a simple function), again, simply a way to explore its tone. ‘Half-hearted’, starting faux-acoustically, quickly expands into a larger track. It’s strange – listening to it, I feel like I’m in 2007, but I can’t place my finger on why. There’s some early A Day To Remember vibes there certainly – or maybe it’s just the writing/production style? There’s a similar feel in the 7th track,’ No Man’s Land’ – boasting an anthemic chorus, and a constantly building arrangement. Emotive gang vocals join us in the bridge, complementing the again surprisingly heavy lyrics – ‘staring at the bottom of the bottle / like it owes us something’. These middle tracks, while interesting in their own right, are simply giving us a chance to breathe, before heading into the one-two punch of the next two tracks. ‘Black’, one of the standouts of the album, beings with Ocean Grove-esque minimal, alien production, before teasing us with some chunky guitars briefly…before dropping away. Trenton’s vocals push us onto a razor’s edge, laced with emotion, delivering their message with pitch-perfect precision. The track builds from an off-kilter, sparse beginning, into potentially the heaviest track we’ve ever heard from Hands Like Houses. Angsty, screamed vocals over vaguely djent-y guitars, complemented by frenetic drums – it’s only for a handful of bars, but it’s more than enough.
‘Tilt’, the third single released, doesn’t bother taking its time to build things up gently – rather, just hitting us with heavy riffs instantly. It’s also the most classic-HLH style track (though think ‘Drift’ era, not ‘This Ain’t No Place for Animals’). With the first 7-ish tracks leading us in one direction, the penultimate track jumping in like this is a fantastic transition (combined with ‘Black’). This is also a great exhibition of one thing that I feel HLH do far better than their peers – interesting vocal rhythms. The ending bridge in ‘Tilt’ is a great example of this (check out ‘Watchmaker’ for an early example of this). ‘Bad Dream’, the final track, heads back into the earlier album’s style production wise – though still remaining quite heavy. It’s vaguely Nine Inch Nails-y…if you think NIN crossed with HLH multiplied by…Gotye…then you’d be close? It’s an interesting combo, and a fitting album finale.
Your thoughts on the album will depend largely on how you feel about this new, sparse but poppy, direction. For me personally, while my favorite HLH tracks are the Dissonants era (especially lone single, ‘Drift’), this album is a refreshing take on the genre, with tight songwriting, and for that, I’m on board.
Hands Like Houses – -Anon. tracklisting
1. Kingdom Come
4. Through Glass
7. No Man’s Land
10. Bad Dream
Don’t miss Hands Like Houses‘ -Anon. album launch shows this week. Dates/Info here