As maligned as much of Rise Records’ roster is by rock elitists, some bands seem to have come to command more respect than others. Hands Like Houses have never truly corresponded to the stereotypical sound the label largely exports, and so feel like the black sheep of the label in some respects.
More mature and willing to experiment with their own boundaries than many of their peers, the Aussie quintet have only gone from strength to strength over the course of their career, culminating in 2013’s ‘Unimagine’ and the masterpiece that concluded it, “A Fire on a Hill”. A hard-fought promotional campaign starved fans of new music (a collection of acoustic reinterpretations and the odd pop banger cover aside), only ramping up anticipation for their eventual creative return. “I Am” is nothing if not a statement of intent – a confident, muscular melodic rock song built on towering hooks and surging energy that showcases how much of a rapport the five musicians of Hands Like Houses have built up over their time together.
Familiar but not formulaic, “I Am” is a perfect encapsulation of the balance between simple and multifaceted that the group have come to employ as their calling card. Stock power chords drive the song forward, but their complimented by contorting melodic lead guitar to provide an additional dimension, as the rhythm section keep proceedings rolling with a vibrant underlying bounce. Vocalist Trenton Woodley moves between more tender verse sections and the arena-ready chorus with apparent ease, the track peaking with a pared-back, calm-before-the-storm bridge and killer drums before a breakdown that succeeds in feeling both natural and perfectly in character for the group. The departure of keyboardist Jamal Sabet appears not to have dented the group’s conviction an inch, with no audible growing pains to be heard.
It’s hard to believe that fans could be disappointed by such an assured and high-quality return from Hands Like Houses, who will be looking to (and most likely succeed in) building buzz ahead of their third studio album tentatively pencilled in for a summer release. “I Am” has both immediacy and depth and shines a spotlight on both the vocal and instrumental strengths of this group that could well go on to rival to the big commercial hitters of post-hardcore on their next run of touring. Both a perfect entry point for the uninitiated and a reward for the faithful, it’s as perfect an opening gambit as Hands Like Houses could have made in 2015.