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Hands Like Houses fail to form a new identity on “Anon.”

Alex Toth, Features Editor

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One thing I can say about “Anon.” is that it probably has the most fitting album title of the year so far. Ever since they cast aside their image as the “band that does post-hardcore instrumentals with clean vocals” on their last record, “Dissonants,” Aussie five-piece Hands Like Houses has been trying to forge a new identity as “pop-rock band from Australia.”

Okay, this probably isn’t the band’s intention, but based on the music of their past two records, there’s no outstanding features or unique elements that really expand their sound’s identity beyond… well… “pop-rock band from Australia.”

That’s not to say these albums are bad. “Dissonants,” while in hindsight never held nearly as many moments of interest or experimentation as its predecessor “Unimagine,” was catchy and gripping enough to be my favorite album by the band for quite a time after its release.

The album cover for Hands Like Houses’ “Anon.” Courtesy Hopeless Records.

While I can’t give quite as high praise to “Anon.,” it’s still not a weak album by any means. The first half of the record is an extremely solid collection of music. Lead single “Overthinking” and second single “Monster” disappointed me when they were first released, but they are both far more satisfying in the context of the album.

The upbeat tempo and aggressive attitude of “Monster” plays perfectly with the buildup provided by opener “Kingdom Come,” and “Overthinking” stands out as one of the catchiest songs on the album on repeat listens.

Unfortunately, many of the album’s other tracks don’t live up to its singles. At the end of most songs on the record I found myself thinking, “that was good.” Nothing more, nothing less, just “good.” Therein lies “Anon.”’s biggest weakness: it’s completely anonymous.

The “wow” factor from the stylistic switch-ups of “Unimagine” or the raw, unbridled experimentation of debut album “Ground Dweller” is nowhere to be found on this latest effort. It’s all perfectly pleasing pop-rock, but there’s nothing here that makes me want to listen to the album and again and again like I did with “Unimagine” or even “Dissonants.”

One aspect of the album that does deserve praise, however, is Trenton Woodley’s vocals. The singer, who has stayed pretty safe in his “smooth tenor with a bit of rasp here and there” lane up until now, experiments more with his voice on this record than ever before.

The verses of the aforementioned “Monster” sound like a completely different singer on first listen, as Woodley reaches into his lower ranges in a mostly fruitful attempt to mimic a mainstream radio rock sound. Woodley also extends his range even lower on “Black,” one of the most interesting tracks from the album’s back half. His screams, showcased on that song as well as the album’s third single “Tilt,” are also much improved from past efforts.

Not all of Woodley’s vocal machinations work on “Anon.,” however. Sometimes, most apparently on mid-album snoozer “Half-Hearted,” Woodley sounds like he was hardly bothered to even be in the recording booth at all. Still, his vocals are mostly fresh and interesting, and definitely one of the strongest points of “Anon.” as a whole.

Sadly, there isn’t much else to be found in the way of innovation on the rest of the record. “Black” and “Monster” are definitely new sounds for the band, and it’s nice that they’re trying to branch out a little. The unfortunate bit is they seem to be branching out in a direction that doesn’t lend itself to the most interesting music. As such, “Anon.” is a good album, but not one worthy of repeat listens.

Rating: 3 out of 5 sails

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Hands Like Houses fail to form a new identity on “Anon.”