Open Hand – You and Me

Open Hand
You and Me

There’s a sticker on this cover that labels the release “an epic masterpiece that obliterates the boundaries between indie rock, stoner rock, metal, emo and garage rock.” Bold statement, but is it accurate? An “epic masterpiece” this is not, but don’t discredit the swaggering line just yet. Open Hand does cover plenty of musical ground, and the band covers it pretty well.

Open Hand is releasing its debut album You and Me on Trustkill Records this month. Trustkill tends to be known for hardcore acts, but Open Hand is decidedly a rock band. These guys play melodious tunes akin to the new Hopesfall more than anything else on Trustkill. Open Hand already has originality in the music department, and it also has the artwork on lockdown. You and Me‘s limited-edition, beautifully crafted die-cut artwork is one of the coolest packages I’ve seen (and they even managed to include lyrics). The Los Angeles band runs a marathon, spanning rock flavors from indie to space rock. Guitar parts are inherited from old-schoolers such as Hum, Soundgarden, and Black Sabbath and newbies like Queens of the Stone Age. It’s like these guys went to the Old Country Buffet of bands and made the best combo meal possible.

The disc begins with “Pure Concentrated Evil,” where muscular riffs are balanced by the pretty, smooth vocals of Justin Isham. Lead guitar slices through the mix like Soundgarden axeman Kim Thayil was making a cameo. Unlike the 2004 metal mashup Probot, Thayil isn’t involved with this project, but Isham imitates him well. “Hard Night” is another display of heaviness, with Black Sabbath-style hooks. Repeated hooks are a Sabbath trademark, and Isham also resurrects that band’s fuzz distortion. Prior to Open Hand, singer and guitarist Isham played in a hardcore band named I Awake. Regardless of this fact, a hardcore influence on the album is missing. The single “Tough Guy” may look hardcore, but it’s actually the album’s catchiest song.

You and Me does have some “tough” vocals, and those appear in three duets with females. Isham’s vocals definitely give Open Hand an identity that many bands are lacking. His ear-pleasing singing is breathy with an effortless quality to it. Shoegaze vocals make “You and Me” comparable with the angelic vocals of My Bloody Valentine. The real difference is that Open Hand’s lyrics are actually audible.

Space rock gets some love on the title track, which is as spacey as they get. Drugged-up ballads embrace the melodic wall of sound that defined Hum. “Crooked Crown” follows suit, suggesting what an upbeat Failure song may sound like. Bouncy notes twinkle back and forth until the chorus changes pace with the thick distortion. This song proves Open Hand can pull off power and beauty at the same time. If the aforementioned song wasn’t already great, Allen Epley of Shiner fame is a guest on the background vocals. Additionally, Epley is also credited with writing some lyrics for You and Me. Already busy with his own band, The Life and Times, Epley’s involvement took me by surprise. You and Me co-producer Paul Malinowski played bass in Shiner, so that explains everything.

The unusual choice of influences gives Open Hand some advantages. These guys are not confined to one particular genre, which widens their tour prospects and their audience. More importantly, they carry the torch of defunct 90s gems like Hum, Failure, and Shiner. If you’re already a devout fan of their ingredients, Open Hand will tide you over until a reunion tour.