Hands Like Houses can boast something that few other rock bands are capable of saying: they pretty much have an entire genre all to themselves. Because although they’re labeled as “post-hardcore,” this talented young group doesn’t adhere to any confines and instead crafts a familiar but refreshing style of music in the process. While the typical post-hardcore act merges brutal breakdowns and angry unclean vocals with melodious (and often, slightly effeminate) clean vocals to create appeal, Hands Like Houses dares to ask: What happens when you take away the off-putting screams and growls? The result is Ground Dweller, an impressive debut that possesses all the essential and intriguing elements of any post-hardcore record except for the screaming. Rather than weigh down the music with genre-dividing screams, lead singer Trenton Woodley dominates each track with sinfully sweet and pitch-perfect vocals. With a vocalist as harmonic as Woodley at the helm, the absence of a hardcore presence, while still apparent at times, is not as detrimental. Hands Like Houses might not pack the punch that some hardcore fans are looking for, but from a compositional standpoint, the only way this band differs from their heavier counterparts is their lack of an unclean vocalist.
“This Ain’t No Place For Animals” opens with an attention-grabbing harp intro before bursting into the same flurry of activity found on the majority of the album. Woodley fluctuates seamlessly from impassioned wails to delicate and high-pitched coos, giving listeners a terrific reason to believe Hands Like Houses will never need an unclean vocalist. The deep and quick booms of Matt Parkitney’s imposing drums helps set the heavy and fast-paced tempo while Woodley completes this song’s right to the title of best on the album by showing off some intelligent lyricism: “I’d never say that you make me sick, but your turning all the questions to cancers / Someone call in the emergency and we’ll peel back the dressings so we can see / The kind of things that the surgeons see / When the bloodwork won’t give us the answers / They’ll never tell us because they don’t know what’s killing us.”
“Spineless Crow” gives a look at the compositional talents of this group, complete with violins, synths and Jamal Sabet’s keyboards. The blazing guitar riffs of Matt Cooper and Alex Pearson, along with Joel Tyrrell’s bass, make the breakdowns all the more enjoyable and pronounced. But as is the case through the majority of the album, Woodley’s impeccable vocal talents seem to shine the brightest as he belts out entrancing note after entrancing note.
Aside from being a good song, if nothing else, “Lion Skin” serves as an indicator of this band’s potential because of guest vocalists Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter, who join with Woodley in delivering stellar and affecting vocals that steal the show once again. The fast-paced guitars and thundering drums once again prove this band’s skill and musicianship, and the incredible vocalists bring their A-game, but this is one a few instances where adding some unclean vocals could have made this quality song even more dynamic.
Ground Dweller suffers from slight repetitiveness and yes, despite their ingenuity and undeniable ability to make captivating post-hardcore music without an unclean vocalist, there are certain moments when songs could use just a little more oomph. However, that doesn’t mean Hands Like Houses has nothing to offer the post-hardcore crowd. With mesmerizing and intelligent breakdowns, intricately subtle touches of musicianship and Woodley’s song-bird voice, this band should not be ignored just because nobody’s screaming their lungs out. Instead, Woodley sings with poise and verve, calling to mind the dulcet tones of guest vocalists Jonny Craig, Tyler Carter and Matty Mullins. Fans of Sleeping With Sirens, Jamie’s Elsewhere, Woe, Is Me, I See Stars, Memphis May Fire, The Word Alive and Emarosa will appreciate this authentic take on the post-hardcore genre, which may leave some thirsting for more and others wishing for some unclean vocals. But either way, Ground Dweller is a promising start for this young and talented band that is consistently engaging and enjoyable throughout.
Final Score: 7.8/10
Rank: 1st (one total album)
- Don’t Look Now, I’m Being Followed, Act Normal
- This Ain’t No Place For Animals
- Spineless Crow
- Starving To Death In The Belly Of The Whale
- A Clown And His Pipe
- The Definition Of Not Leaving
- Lion Skin (Feat. Jonny Craig And Tyler Carter)
- One Hundred
- Watchmaker (Feat. Marty Mullins)
- The Sower