If you turn up your nose when someone says that their favorite band is Dance Gavin Dance, Three Days Grace or My Chemical Romance, you probably won’t like this album. That being said, if you are a fan of those bands, or you are just sick of listening to Kanye West’s new album, you’ll find some parts of Hands Like Houses’ “Dissonants” to be a nice change of pace. Who knows, you might even find some of the songs absolutely engrossing. Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be given to the album as a whole.
Hands Like Houses is a post-hardcore band from Canberra, Australia. The band has two previous albums, “Ground Dwellers” from 2012 and “Unseen” from 2013. Over the course of those two albums, Hands have been refining their style on an album-per-album basis. “Dissonants” is their most refined album to date, everything feels as if it’s in its right place.
And what is this right place? Well, I don’t know if it’s an actual place but I do know that it involves lots of synths and generic post-hardcore lyrics: “I’m sick, I’m tired / Of Hollow Hope” singer Trenton Woodley yells on the opener “I am,” This might sound redundant, but as I said earlier: if you aren’t a big fan of post-hardcore music, this album as a whole gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
At only 46 minutes long, it felt grating to finish this album for those last couple of songs, and that is not a good thing. When an album this short but feels this long, that’s a sign of the album not having enough content, or at least focusing too much on a single idea. Radiohead’s “Kid A” is one minute longer than “Dissonants,” and it goes by like a bullet train compared to this frustrating jog of an album.
Listening to “Dissonants” for the first couple of listens is like listening to one big song rather than an album. Each song is very similar to the last one, but there are differences that help distinguish songs from one another. Unfortunately, you have to listen to the album a couple times before you notice these dis- tinctions. The album is like getting a salad for lunch every day: sure each day you might put some new dressings on your salad, but at the end of the week, you’ve just been eating salad for lunch seven days in a row.
The album’s strengths don’t lie in it being a cohesive album, but it does have strengths. Instead of taking it as a whole, the album really would have been better as an EP with the filler tracks left out. Some songs sound very similar to the ones that come before and after it, such as the two songs “Glasshouse” and “Division Symbols,” I thought the two were the same song on my first listen. The more I listened to the album however, the more I noticed the more subtle differences between the two songs. “Division Symbols” has become one of my favorites because of the fantastic use of keyboards throughout the entire track.
Unfortunately, not all songs on this album have these distinguishing features. The tracks “Stillwater” and “Momentary” are distinguished enough to me to tell when one song stops and the other begins, but other than that, nothing really stands out about these tracks to make them as memorable as “Division Symbols.”.
This being said, the instrumentation, production and mixing on this album are all worthy of praise. Post-hardcore is a genre that is riddled with poor production more so than any other one I can think of. Bands like Dance Gavin Dance or some of the tracks on Paramore’s first album are prime examples of poor production hindering a band. But thankfully, Hands Like Houses is an example of the other side of the spectrum.
For starters you can actually hear, and distinguish, all of the instruments that they used, and what’s more than that is that the instrumentation on tracks is actually good enough to be warranted to be heard. The drums on this album for example, are energetic when they need to be, and subdued when they need to be; such as on the opener “I Am,” during the chorus the snares and constant and rhythmic, but during the bridge, the drums back off. There’s also a pretty cool breakdown towards the end of the track. There’s also the keyboards, such as the ones on “Division Symbols,” but I digress.
So where does that leave this album? I’m of the opinion that an album is only as good as its worst song. So yeah, on some level I think “Dissonants” is a bad album. But I also think this album is somewhat of an exception to my rule–in other words it has potential. The tracks that are boring are really boring and become grating fast. But for every bad track there’s a good track to make up for it.
The good tracks are also good enough to warrant listening to this album. I know that I’ll be raving about the keyboards on “Division Symbols” to my friends back home over the summer. Tracks like the opener “I am” and the closer “Bloodlines” shows that Hands Like Houses can make great post-hardcore songs. These tracks are energetic, cohesive and are mixed well. The problem is that Hands Like Houses tries to do the same thing with every track, and even if they had succeeded in making every track fantastic post-hardcore tracks, it still would have been an album of same-sounding songs.
Don’t write this album off if you are a fan of the genre. Give it a listen, because there are moments worth your time on “Dissonants.” It’s just a shame that you have to get through so many superficial tracks to get to these mo- ments.