Originally Published: December 29, 2014 I just liked it so much I wanted to repost it. It’s pretty long, so prepare to read 🙂
There’s a lot that I want to say about Hands Like Houses, but, first, take some time to watch this video, which I’ll be discussing in this post.
When I first heard Hands Like Houses, I was surprised by how different they were from everything else I usually listen to. Their music was heavy, but they didn’t have any screaming, so they hung in a weird balance. Lyrically, they were very creative, clear but just cryptic enough to force you to spend some time pondering the meaning behind the words.
When first listening to this band, I heard both the album Unimagine (read about it here) and the Reimagine EP at the same time, so in this post, I’m going to talk much about the one song that connects both albums for me: “Developments.”
“Developments” caught my attention right from the beginning, and not just because it was the first track on the original album. When I heard the reimagined version of it, which you also have heard in the above video, it remained one of my favorites. Take a look at some of the lyrics below, to see what I’m talking about:
“Between the black and white, where everything goes grey, and everything’s unsaid, undone, and the negative bleeds away to reveal the memory that we’ve waited so long for. We’re so nervous to see if we’ve let too much in, if we were out of focus or out of frame. I know it’s a moment of truth, if a recollection reflects reality, or if it’s lost forever.”
This song is basically an extended metaphor for photography, and the process of developing photos. During my last year of high school, I took a photography class, and I spent most of fifth period in the darkroom, working on my own photos or helping others, so this imagery is particularly relevant to me.
It’s darkest before the light.
The kind of photography we did at Homestead Senior High School was black and white photography that involved developing the film ourselves. We had to get an SLR camera, we learned about film, composition, lighting, framing, and a few other things. I remember our teacher taking us out to the back of the school with tiny photo frames and we practiced framing trees in various different angles, just to understand composition better.
When it was finally time to take pictures, we had to learn about exposure, and how to adjust the aperture and the shutter speed to capture the image we wanted. Once we’ve taken the picture, it exists on film, and we had to develop that film before we could actually develop the photograph.
The process of developing the film includes reeling up your film under a box with arms holes, placing it in a tin, and then dunking that tin through a series of chemicals that will start the development process.
Once the negatives have had a chance to dry, you can look at them and choose which of the negatives you would like to develop as a picture. Then, you take it to the darkroom, where you enlarge the negative to the size of the image you want to create.
Once you’ve done that, you get a small strip of photo paper (which is light sensitive) and you expose the light to it for a few seconds, increasing the duration slowly to determine how much exposure you want for your picture. The more exposure, the darker the picture.
So, you figure out what looks good, and then you expose an entire sheet of paper to your image. Now, this is why you have to develop your photograph in a darkroom, because it is the amount of light hitting the paper that allows you to see an image. If, for example, you took the photo paper out of the darkroom, or you turned on the lights, the paper would be ruined.
It has to go through the darkness before being exposed to the light. Otherwise, it will be destroyed.
The next step is to start developing that photo paper. There are a bunch of chemicals that you have to soak it in, for specific amounts of time, and then you wash it off and hang it up to dry.
As the chemicals wash over the paper, they start to reveal an image on the paper, the image we had previously captured on the negative film strip. Other chemicals lock that image in, so that when it’s exposed to more light, it doesn’t get ruined.
So in photography, and especially in the darkroom, there’s a whole bunch of exposure and development, and that’s at the heart of this song. The song is about the dark times in our lives, and the process of gleaning something positive from them.
But it’s also about the growth that happens through them, as you look back on what has happened and learn from it. But, as in photography, you can’t always be sure if what you captured, or what you remebered, will come out the same in the end. When you look back, is it really what you thought it was?
That’s an interesting concept to think about. Memories of the past are so fickle, and they often change, depending on our state of minds upon recollecting them.
That’s what this song is hitting at: when you look back at this moment again, what are you going to see? When you’re so far away, and the moment has passed, what are you going to see when you look back? Is it going to be the same? Will you see all the pain, the darkness, or even the good times?
Or will you see something else?
The image is still there, unseen.
When I was first discovering Hands Like Houses, I spent a lot of time listening to this EP on YouTube, but I never stopped to see the videos that came with the songs. After recognizing this as a favorite, I took some time to watch the video that I posted above, and it bothered me.
Those people in the video, as stated by the introduction, were real people who were filmed by a man named Noel Cooper sometime in the ’70s. It’s always strange for me to see the past like that, unfiltered by time, preserved in the state it existed. I am pretty sure most of the people in those videos did not even know they were being filmed, and that was what made it awesome.
As I watched the video, I was struck by how real it all was; I was struck by the various characters and personalities presented and preserved from almost forty years ago, such as the young women who looked away from the camera sheepishly, or the man gesturing wildly as he addressed a crowd of natives.
There is something about being filmed, about having your person captured and preserved to see at another time. I don’t think I’m doing a good job at describing this, but this simple video provoked all of these thoughts, and I was mesmerized.
But how does this relate to the song? This video is all about the past, as Noel Cooper’s memories were recorded on film and preserved for over forty years. A major theme of the song is the idea that when you look back at something, it isn’t going to be the same as when you experienced it the first time.
For some, that is actually consolation, because even though their situation seems dark right now, it will get better and they’ll see some things that they couldn’t see at the time. This song seems to hint that they may actually see the good things about the experience that they chose to overlook.
This version of the song became an instant favorite for me, as it slowed the song down considerably and, when combined with the video, was somber and haunting. But it never lost its message of hope, that “it’s darkest before the light” and that light is coming.
The more I listen to this band, the more they surprise me. The depth of this song is just a taste of what this band has to offer. And I haven’t even gotten into the music itself, but I think you’re better off hearing it for yourself. Thankfully, Rise Records has the entire Reimagine EP, as well as Unimagine, on YouTube, for your listening pleasure. Give the album a listen to and let’s talk about it below.