REVIEW: Hands Like Houses – Dissonants [2016]


Artist: Hands Like Houses 

Album: Dissonants


When one thinks “dissonance,” one typically conjures to mind one of two images. The first is one of disarray or chaos—where order is lost and practically beyond retrieval. The second is similar, but more aggressive: one of decay—a collapse of not just order, but the order that sustains life. Post-hardcore-turned-alt-rock group Hands Like Houses challenge both those notions with Dissonants, an album not bent on being dissonant, but rather, defining what it is to be dissonant. Hands Like Houses revel in ethereal, atmospheric songs that collect themselves quickly enough to build up to a powerful, passionate climax, spending a majority of the time flowing in and out of a variety of styles, constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Dissonantsis not dissonant like their downtuned Aussie brethren, but instead hovers just off the ground, filling the gap in styles between post-hardcore, post-rock and alternative rock—making it a well-rounded album with mass appeal.

Instrumentally, Hands Like Houses make their home somewhere in the gap between poppy, bouncy rock and toe-tapping, speedy post-hardcore. Given their tendency to drift back and forth between the two styles, there is a natural sort of ethereality that permeates their sound, evident in everything from Matt Parkitney’s drumming to Matt Cooper and Alex Pearson’s fretwork. Tracks like the first couple on Dissonants—“I Am” and “Perspectives,”—along with “Grey Havens” are Hands Like Houses at their most energetic and aggressive, with all three dipping into groovy, dissonant breakdowns for just long enough for the listener to feel the sting. Here, Parkitney works in beautiful dynamic with bassist Joe Tyrrel to bring some bold, beefy groove to the listener’s ears. Primarily, however, Tyrrel is an anchor that serves to keep the more atmospheric riffs and leads from Cooper and Pearson anchored firmly to Parkitney’s percussion. “Motion Sickness,” or the fleeting nature of “Momentary” display this quite well—as Cooper and Pearson begin the song with sharp, prominent leads that quickly melt into airy ethereality by the time the chorus kicks in, leaving it up to Tyrrel to hold the two together.

One might look at the description of Hands Like Houses’ music and think it’s scattered and lacks focus—and that might be true if it weren’t for frontman Trenton Woodley’s soaring voice and poignant lyricism. In a time where it’s “cool” to write disparaging lyrics that preach hatred and depression, Woodley’s speak of pushing through dark times and overcoming obstacles life throws in your path. “Bloodlines” is evident enough of this, let alone “Perspectives” or “Grey Havens.” On these tracks, Woodley’s soaring clean voice cuts through the instrumentation, shining on its own, yet unifying some of the more scattered and loose portions in its wake. The dynamic harmonies in the chorus of “Momentary” do this especially well—while the closing portion of “I Am” is one of few instances where Woodley’s beautiful voice dips into a gritty scream. Even where some fans might find Woodley’s high voice monotonous at times, there is no question that his catchy choruses and sharp verses keep Dissonants from becoming dissonance. 

Hands Like Houses have honed in on a sound that they do better than the handful of other bands attempting it. With airy, loose portions that ebb and flow into synchronized, speedy passages and vice versa, the only thing keeping Dissonants down is its length. While Hands Like Houses do a solid job of avoiding monotony, it gets increasingly difficult as the album begins to edge in on 50 minutes long. This makes listening to the entire album front-to-back a bit of a chore—especially after the third or fourth run through. Even in spite of this, the Australian quintet’s latest full length is rife with songs that make for a powerful one-off listen, or a stand-out track on a playlist to belt with your friends. While the band do struggle to keep their feet on solid ground at times during Dissonants, that isn’t an inherently bad thing: as it allows them to oscillate between styles and sounds freely and fluidly, giving them a head up on their peers.



For Fans Of: Cordova, Sleeping with Sirens, Silverstein, Enter Shikari

By: Connor Welsh