New Honor System album unabashedly rises to the top

By Joseph Hanson

To the best of my knowledge, Rise and Run, the second full-length release from the Chicago-based Honor System, did not appear on a single year-end, best of, top ten, or any superlative or cumulative list. That is, of course, except for my own. This album’s best quality is also its biggest fault—it’s delivered without blushing.

In the opening track, “Moving Day,” lead singer Dan Hanaway, founding member of The Broadways, delivers a succinct attack on Wal-Mart: “Another town laid to rest/ on the trophy shelf of progress/ The greatlandsTM ate the heartlands/ The bells ring ‘we sell for less.” Track four, “I want Candy,” is a clever satire of over-medicated children. This band’s socialist leanings are most apparent in “Cadence!,” a song responding to the plight of workers, both blue and white collar. Unfortunately, the lyrics are juvenile, if not laughable: “You want your meal then you’ll dance for it/ To the pounding drums of politics.” The Honor System seems unable to distinguish between their witty swagger or clichéd redundance, but then again, this is an indie rock album that doesn’t once mention an ex-girlfriend or decompose into solipsistic pathos. The album evokes thrill and disappointment, optimism and gloom, and while these ideas may be borrowed, it’s a welcome change of subject matter.

Musically, Rise and Run is a beautiful development of the Honor System’s sound. Drummer Rob Depaola, also a former member of The Broadways, drives the album from one song to the next. The bass guitar is lean, with treble turned low, used as an emotive and percussive pulse. Combined, the drums and bass add an unsettling urgency to the music. The two guitars split between a melodic lead and a muddy background. One might try to describe the overall sound as mathy post-punk; I’d just call it good.

The perfected form of this sound is delivered in a thirty-second breakdown at the end of track nine, “Paper Idols.” Hanaway contemplates defeat, an embrace of the mainstream, and the commercial. He suggests: “Lay down your arms, Lay Down your Cards, concede/Believe.” He holds that last word in a tranquil fade. Depaola responds with a pulsing march, evocative of engines of war, layered with ugly distortion. A brisk bass line and clean guitar give a catchy and stuttered reply. You shiver, and identify with the melody. You do not want Hanaway to concede—you want his discontent to continue, his juvenile outrage to win, but mostly, you want for the music to go on without blushing forever.