For all the disparagement that super-melodic post-hardcore and metalcore get (and, often, rightfully so), Hands Like Houses have frequently been pegged among the best. That’s been pretty much true for the bulk of their career, too; Ground Dweller was an exceptionally strong debut, but Unimagine really was that one explosive moment that saw them shoot up to the top of the pile, doubling down on the intelligence of the writing and the richness of the melodies for a truly great album in its own right, not just in its niche sub-genre. Its follow-up Dissonants, on the other hand, hasn’t fared nearly as well since its release, and while that could easily be seen as a simple bump in the road, it could prove to be the start of Hands Like Houses’ downfall. After all, the hype for -Anon. has been borderline nonexistent, something that certainly wouldn’t be the case if the quality had stayed high, and topped off with singles that have been mere blips in the radar above anything else, there’s every chance that this could be Hands Like Houses’ least impactful album to date.
And sadly, that’s probably true, and instead of that being because Hands Like Houses do anything particularly wrong, it’s more because they don’t do much of anything at all. What was once a band that trafficked in clever lyrics and huge hooks that made the most of their size and expensive production now just comes across as tired and jaded, shovelling out another album for the sake of it with so little of what made them great in the first place. And that really is unfortunate, especially when Hands Like Houses feel so deeply entrenched in the self-fulfillment of their album’s title; this could’ve been made by literally any B-rate band in the scene and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference.
And that can make discussing and analysing -Anon. a particularly thankless task, because there’s so little here compared to the band’s past work. Put this next to Unimagine with its themes of environmentalism and the effects humanity is having on the planet, and -Anon. comes across as so gutless and formulaic by comparison. The closest it gets to anything in that area is Tilt and its greater focus on sociopolitical issues, but even that feels like a leftover in comparison to their best work, stripping back the richness and colour in its imagery for cut-and-dry buzzwords with so little individual personality. It’s clear they’ve spared no expense when busting out the Big Book Of Scene Songwriting here, but even in the objectively better moments, it’s actually quite shocking how uninspired this can feel, and when there are tracks like Kingdom Come and Sick heading up the album, the impetus to get through the rest is virtually nonexistent.
Fortunately, execution seems to be where -Anon. has kept some of the band’s past flair, but even then, it’d be a stretch to call pretty much anything here as good as what Hands Like Houses have delivered in the past. That’s not to say that there aren’t some moments that really pop out, like snarling guitars and thick, lurching bass on Black, or Through Glass with its swirling, outwardly poppier tones that are definitely lighter than anything else, but it makes for what is probably the most likable and distinct song here. Elsewhere though, Hands Like Houses resort primarily to recycling familiar sounds and styles in a way that makes it pretty obvious that these have been done before; the likes of Monster and Overthinking definitely aren’t bad, but they occupy the broadest part of the band’s sound that’s been strip-mined already with little fertility remaining, even with some tighter production to try and gloss things over. The biggest disappointment is in Trenton Woodley’s vocals though, typically the shining light of Hands Like Houses’ sound who sounds so checked out and bored here, rarely hitting his usual heights either in terms of power or range, and preferring to trundle along on the inoffensive middle ground that only makes this album even less memorable.
That feeds in to what is ultimately -Anon.’s biggest failing, that being that, in terms of Hands Like Houses’ back catalogue, there’s nothing to distinguish it as its own thing. It’s not as experimental as Ground Dweller, nor as memorable and refined as Unimagine, nor as heavy as Dissonants, and instead just floats in the grey negative space where it’s unable to really do anything beyond exist as a fourth album with little more to it. Even in a genre where flash and a big hook can redeem a lot, -Anon. struggles to even use those to its advantage, and simply continues to trip at almost every hurdle it crosses. It’s easily Hands Like Houses’ weakest album to date, if you can actually remember it after listening, that is.
For fans of: The Word Alive, Secrets, I The Mighty
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘-Anon.’ by Hands Like Houses is out now on Hopeless Records.