Australian band Hands Like Houses‘ newest release, Unimagine, stands as 2012’s Ground Dweller did, modestly ‘neath the shelter of the “post hardcore” umbrella. The term has earned its place on the list of dubious music descriptors along with post rock, post metal and a whole lot of other stuff that came after stuff. If you ever want to kill some time along with some brain cells, prefix a musical genre of your choice with “post-” and enter it into Google. There isn’t a combination that won’t yield results. It’s like a psychiatric association test where there are no right or wrong answers.
What is now convention first occurred with post bop, but was cemented as part of rock and roll mechanics with post punk. Kids who dug the Pistols but had no desire to sound like them needed a cute new nickname to demarcate their own scene. Post hardcore works much the same; “Black Flag and the Teen Idles were cool but our singers operate on octaves instead of gears and our guitars make melodies instead of blitzkriegs.” But most importantly, while hardcore records travelled ever-inward and became increasingly claustrophobic, post hardcore doesn’t quiver when presented with bright, expansive instrumentation and ruminations on a world outside of the narrator’s head.
Unimagine, in that sense, is a declaration of just how progressive the newer generation is. They’ve shucked themselves of the biases of their parent genre and it’s precisely the lack of baggage that makes Hands Like Houses enjoyable and often compelling.
Hands Like Houses – Wisteria
The new album has Hands Like Houses’ variegated sound coalescing in a way that was absent on Ground Dweller. Where the debut LP felt cramped and overloaded with ideas packaged by crisp production, Unimagine creates ways for the sonics to interact with each other while avoiding a cacophonous scramble for the listener’s focus. Songs like Introduced Species combine electronic bleeps, choral vocals, anvil-like guitars and ever-shifting time signatures to create epic sound-pieces over which singer Trenton Woodley exercises his considerable vocal talent.
The rhythm section remains in the pocket, creating repeating grooves that persist until the next time-shift. On tracks like The House You Built and Wisteria this is coupled with wall-of-sound rhythm guitars and wiry leads, making the songs schizophrenic and siren-like. Highlight Oceandust is a piano-driven pop ballad in the vein of other such outings by Motley Crue or Todd Rundgren. But Woodley’s honeyed vocals command melody better than either of these two artists, making the track catchier and more satisfying.
Hands Like Houses – Oceandust
The lyrics prioritise joy and love above all else, mindful that the world is a tangled conspiracy against such things though it’s precisely in the fabric of the world that narrator Woodley acquires happiness. “This is happiness, to be everything at once”, he sings, never feeling sorry for himself, which is refreshing, and never quite bringing himself to simply rage at the sky. His band provides momentum while he remains at odds with infinity: “To know your every detail is a lifetime”.
Though at times the sentimentality can make some tracks saccharine or overwrought, as in the case of album closer A Fire On A Hill, the instrumentation and song-craft is often enjoyable enough to distract from any excess cheese that may have been sprinkled on top of a song. While Unimagine isn’t enough to spell any kind of renaissance for Rise Records, who’ve become a factory of mediocre baby-boy wailing and melodic distortion, it’s a consistently enjoyable listen unto itself. The dense arrangements and admirable songwriting make one glad that hardcore fans decided to deviate from the daddy genre and do their own thing.
Listen: Hands Like Houses – Unimagine (Official Album Stream)