Hands Like Houses

Ground Dweller

Written by: BL on 31/03/2012 23:27:50

I had been looking forward to Canberra, Australia six piece Hands Like Houses' debut "Ground Dweller" for quite some time. Having gotten themselves to signed to Rise Records, recording with none other than Cameron Mizell of Rise Rec- er Chango Studios, while featuring an impressive array of guest vocals from Tyler Carter (ex-Woe, Is Me), Jonny Craig (ex-Emarosa and Dance Gavin Dance) and Matty Mullins (Memphis May Fire), they seem to be fitting themselves around the mould of a pretty standard post-hardcore band in the American scene these days (despite their Australian heritage). And indeed it's a debut that finds it impossible to escape some of the trappings of a desperately crowded music scene, but, and really but, "Ground Dweller" is still far more than your run of the mill type of release in this genre and gives a much needed breath of air all round while boasting some memorable songs.

"Antarctica" serves as a bit of a firework opening song and really hurls at you everything the band are all about - decorated guitar instrumentals that aren't shy of pretty melodic leads nor the odd heavier breakdown riff, complemented with busy, colorful and surprisingly double bass pedal reliant drum work. Then there are the quirky keyboards and samples which range from simple piano to vibraphones, strings, bells and more. Finally on top of that you have Trenton Todd Woodley's somewhat Jonny Craig-lite sounding voice which most definitely takes centre stage, partly because it's an all clean vocal performance for the entire album and partly because he's just a really solid singer. It's a pretty sweet recipe from here on out that doesn't so much rewrite the rules (especially since you will hear a lot of Emarosa/Broadway like moments), but these guys certainly push where they can and sound like they had a bit of fun with it along the way. The lyrics are thoughtful too with a fair bit of imagination driving some vivid imagery even if the subject matter isn't always complicated, with nice little passages here and there -

Cast the sheep out of your mind, Count the wolves and we'll sleep tonight

or even right from the start -

Father, we fled your house of grey. We ran from home to seek a place where our bodies would never grow.

Dreamer, child, be cautious of this world. She has an appetite for boys and girls and she’s hungry for your soul.

Moving on the album's musical journey, "Don't Look Now, I'm Being Followed, Act Normal" and "This Ain't No Place For Animals" keep the ball rolling with more catchy vocal melodies and driving instrumentals, especially the latter though neither quite reaches the crazy heights of the opening song. "Spineless Crow" stands out a bit for its liberal helping of theatrics and string accompanying background which manages to add a differing atmosphere. By heavy contrast "Starving To Death In The Belly Of A Whale" might be the most ordinary (in standard post-hardcore terms) track yet. Relying mostly on simple, tried and tested fast ringing guitar melodies, it's still a pleasant addition. "A Clown And His Pipe" meanwhile has one of the stronger choruses on the album (only really outshone personally by my highlighted picks which I've named below) and carries with it a slight swagger and mild southern charm.

The somewhat interlude like "The Definition Of Not-Leaving" maintains a more laidback tone, but does take some of the energy out that gets built up til now. Also with the reduced instrumentals you notice the stuttering electronic voice effect more when it comes in, which can be off-putting since it gets way too overused these days. And while not exactly a waste of space, I would say it is probably the only track overall that really fails to leave any lasting impression before it departs since it's a bit thin on the ground (more than literally). Fortunately "Lion Skin" (where Tyler Carter and Jonny Craig feature simultaenously) and "One Hundred" back to back are probably the strongest tracks with sickeningly catchy sing-a-longs and soaring fretwork that sent a few tingles down my spine. It really feels like the band stepped up their game big time here and the results are definitely worth all the effort that had gone into their construction.

This upward trend levels off eventually with the last two songs "Watchmaker" and "The Sower". The first of the final pair probably the heaviest track on "Ground Dweller", the term 'heavy' quite subjective here since it is only so within the context of the album and isn't really that heavy by real world standards. There is just more of a low end, beefier chug to all the guitar rhythms which actually sounds pretty good alongside the softer clean vocals - Matty Mullins' guest spot was a wise addition here specifically. Finally "The Sower" wraps the entire album up, not emphatically so, but measured with some interesting passages here and there including a couple of sudden chords which I thought were maybe a bit too abrasive with regards to the song flow, though a decent chorus and a nice fading end makes up for it.

Overall "Ground Dweller" is a more than satisfying journey that definitely has its peaks, and is something I see myself revisiting a fair bit more for the immediate thrills it offers (especially the choruses). A small downside I did find after a while is that the experimentation and exploration while a bit more than your average post-hardcore/rock release nowadays, felt greater than it actually was. This comes down to the fact that it's all held at best arms length away from the more accessible side of the band that is going to market their brand to the younger audiences out there, all the while offering a respectable handshake with the more mature listeners who are after something with more depth. It's not a point really necessary to dwell on too much though, especially to enjoy this record for what it really is, since both the accessible and the deeper aspects of it are done really well. And I'm sure the next one down the line will be even bigger and better.


Download: Antarctica, Lion Skin, One Hundred
For the fans of: Emarosa, Broadway, Jamie's Elsewhere, The Getaway Plan
Listen: Facebook

Release date 13.03.2012
Rise Records

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