A handful of silly song titles on their Ground Dweller debut album aside, Hands Like Houses have never really fit in with the Rise-core breakdown-pop brigade. They’ve never been content to settle for the base elements employed by their colleagues, instead drawing on electronics that flesh out atmosphere (rather than fulfilling gimmick quotients) and lead guitar lines that are actually memorable. Maybe it’s their Australian background; maybe it’s because they actually give a damn not only about the idea of playing music, but the execution of it. Their last effort, the obligatory acoustic remix collection Reimagine, may not be the best indicator of their black sheep status, but it did seemingly give the group a more transparent view of the strengths and weaknesses of their own songwriting going into their third album proper.
Perhaps that explains the wait – it seems like forever since first single and album opener “I Am” provided the initial taste of what Dissonants would bring, but time has not dulled the brash, brilliant confidence that the song has. Like much of the rest of its parent album, it shows Hands Like Houses building on the strengths of their previous work rather than moving in a new direction. One of their stand out skills is the inclusion of early-Karnivool/Nothing More juddering riffs and thick bass into their formula, breaking up the power chord-driven post-hardcore that feels tired when left to hold up the weight of “Division Symbols” and the chorus of “Momentary” alone. The latter song’s verses on the other hand show how sumptuous the group’s musicianship can be, but man of the match is undoubtedly vocalist Trenton Woodley. His voice has warmth rare in the genre, and his hooks are brilliant more often than not. “Glasshouse” is a sky-scraping highlight, but “Stillwater” is the album’s emotive centrepiece, building from an urgent pre-chorus to climax with a genuine feeling of desperate anguish.
The album as a whole is largely standard verse-chorus-repeat fare, which feels a tad monochrome at times. Bizarrely, the odd-numbered tracks are repeatedly the best, a probably unintentional album structure that does at least mean there’s no real sustained dip. Quality levels stabilise in the final third, even if the gang refrain of “Bloodlines” is no match for the closer on previous album Unimagine – “A Fire on a Hill” remains the band’s ambitious, perfectly executed masterpiece. As a whole, Dissonants does earn the crown of the band’s best full-length due to its mastery of hooks and a clear step-up in the ability of the musicians to lock their instruments together to create something greater than the sum of their parts. The breakdowns that pop up here and there are still totally unnecessary, but even they are better than previously.
Post-hardcore as a whole feels more than a bit tired in 2016, and the alternative and hard rock elements (and more importantly, really good songs) that Hands Like Houses bring to the table distinguish them as particularly tasty fish in an increasingly overcrowded pond. Dissonants is not the album that will convert newcomers to the modern rock scene into disciples (that’s still Bring Me the Horizon’s That’s the Spirit, FYI) but it has more than enough fun and games to make those already immersed in this kind of music very happy indeed.