I first heard of Canberra, Australia’s Hands Like Houses through a random chain of links on iTunes that led me from some album I already liked to another similar album to another similar album to the band’s single “Lion Skin.” The song caught my attention mostly because it featured guest spots from Jonny Craig (Dance Gavin Dance, ex-Emarosa) and Tyler Carter (ex-Woe, Is Me), but also because the art caught my eye. A few months later, they signed to Rise Records and forced me to pay closer attention. A string of acoustic videos and the lyric video for “Antarctica” built up a high level of anticipation, and the band definitely delivered. Straying from the stereotypical “Rise-core” sing/scream combo, the album contains only clean vocals layered over intricate guitar work, powerful drumming, and interesting synth parts. The resulting formula makes Ground Dweller an impressive debut that should turn a lot of heads for both the typical Rise Records fan and those who might be more critical of the label’s post-hardcore base.
As mentioned before, “Antarctica” played a large role in getting me hooked on Hands Like Houses. The opening of the track is reminiscent of something Isles & Glaciers might have written, with an intricate synth part and restrained vocals leading into a massive chorus. The song’s lyrics are unique for their topic and the vocal performance is top-notch, with both the chorus and bridge standing out. With that said, the layered portion at the end is probably my favorite part, with each element of the band shining at once. Though the vocals continue to be great in “Don’t Look Now, I’m Being Followed. Act Normal,” they take the backseat to the guitar and drum work, which kick it up a notch from the opener. The singalong section towards the middle should be a powerful moment in their live set, while at the same time showing dynamic contrast. “This Ain’t No Place For Animals” brings out more of the theatrics heard in “Antarctica” as it builds up to a driving verse. After a well-placed breakdown, the chorus takes off, though the really interesting section is the post-chorus, where the band plays with rhythm and sonic textures to make one of the most exciting moments of the album.
After a theatrical transition from the end of the previous track, “Spineless Crow” opens with its own synth theme and well-placed drum hits. Though the track was the weakest of those released prior to the album, it works really well in the context of the other tracks. The technical guitar work and synth parts have some interesting interplay and the chorus is huge, though the vocals tend to shine a little more when there is less instrumentation surrounding them, particularly in the acoustic outro. The intro to “Starving to Death in the Belly of a Whale” is another really exciting part of the album. The drum parts throughout the song hit really hard as little electronic elements here and there add a unique touch. “A Clown and His Pipe” kicks off with acrobatic guitar lines and is full of great vocal melodies, particularly the one on the line “we could light a fire.” The bridge adds some diversity to the album and has an interesting atmosphere about it.
“The Definition of Not Leaving” slows the album down a little bit, which is not a bad thing by any means. It reminds me a bit of what Sleeping With Sirens‘ song “Dance Party” might sound like if it had vocals. Mostly an atmospheric track, the percussion and layered vocals fit the synth sounds perfectly as the line “stay, don’t go” remains. “Lion Skin” proves that vocalist Trenton Woodley can hang with some of the best in the genre, as he sings at least as well as scene favorites Jonny Craig and Tyler Carter over the atmosphere provided by the synth, great guitar riffs and pounding drum parts. The acoustic video of this song is also fantastic, with the singalong portion in the middle promising a lot of crowd interaction for their tours in 2012. “One Hundred” matches rhythmic guitar playing to more melodic synth lines in the opening verse, though the guitar definitely shines through the chorus into the second verse. There are a few fun instrumental portions to this song, which are unique for the album. At the same time, there are definitely some memorable vocal lines.
As “One Hundred” fades out, the opening of “Watchmaker” picks up with a chant-like line accompanying a few synth parts. This is one of my personal favorite tracks on the album, as it has both an impressive vocal performance and the most interesting arrangement of the whole record. The electronic elements are well done without being overdone, the chorus is memorable, and it has just the right amount of breakdowns. The vocal layering towards the end finishes the track on a great note, which is quickly matched by the energy offered by the opening of “The Sower.” Full of interesting rhythmic parts and as much energy as the record’s opener, “The Sower” ends Ground Dweller on a massive high note. The song has great drumming, soaring guitar riffs and one of the best choruses on the album. It closes with an instrumental portion that leads perfectly back into the beginning of “Antarctica,” making it easy to put this record on repeat.
While it might be easy to lump Hands Like Houses in with a lot of the other bands on their label, doing so would be a huge mistake. Every member of this group is extremely talented, with the amount of impressive parts on Ground Dweller serving as testament to that fact. The band does bear a significant resemblance to acts like Isles & Glaciers and Emarosa, but manages to set itself apart by allowing the vocals to act as another instrument that interacts with the powerful melodies without overpowering what is normally placed beneath the words. In this respect, Hands Like Houses creates wonderful atmospheres throughout this album that are full of interesting textures that blend well and, at the same time, give certain lines the spotlight. It’s a carefully balanced mix that the band pulls off perfectly. If you’ve previously given up on post-hardcore or Rise Records, give Ground Dweller a few spins. It might just change your mind.