Review Summary: Tennessee pop punk?! Can it be?!
The fact that On My Honor has emerged out of Knoxville, Tennessee as a rising force in pop punk is nothing short of remarkable. As someone who has lived in Knoxville my entire life, let me explain.
Recently dubbed with such titles as America’s “Most Romantic City”, “Perfectly Average City”, and “Most Bible-Minded City”, Knoxville simultaneously rises above and dips below embarrassing southern stereotypes. The population largely consists of sports-crazed retirees, a religious middle-aged community, and a college crowd of metro sub-hipsters and university greeks. And well, of course, rednecks (but not as many as you might think). The city excels in areas such as advancements in eco-friendly science and energy, outdoor culture, and tourism, but consistently seems to be one step behind the rest of the country when it comes to fashion, politics, and, especially, music. The little semblance of a music scene that exists revolves around psych-pop weirdoes, vaguely country-sounding singer-songwriters, and dubstep “artists”. The punk/pop-punk community ate away at itself a long time ago with epidemic laziness and holier-than-thou douchebaggery, and is currently atrocious. On My Honor’s own song and fan favorite “Indrid Cold”, released on this album and also formerly as a single, even talks about the deconstruction of their local scene and how they feel alienated and embarrassed by the state it has regressed to. So trust me; Knoxville’s punk scene is atrocious. I’ve literally never seen a nationally touring punk band come through Knoxville during a southeast/east coast leg of a tour, and there’s good reason for that.
Coming from such a disparaging area for punk music, the band has employed extreme DIY ethic and toured themselves ragged in order to garner a following. And with little to no local influences to draw from, On My Honor have crafted their sound from every corner of the pop punk spectrum. In places, their songs are reminiscent of everyone from mid-career Saves the Day (“Say It With The ‘I’”) to an unmistakable Carridale vibe on the outro of the title track (which, interestingly enough, has to be the only other non-Floridian southern pop punk band, from Decatur, Alabama).
I Never Deserve The Things I Need was produced by The Swellers’ frontman Nick Diener, and the influence of his band can be seen all over the album, especially in vocalist Drew Justice’s singing style. His uniquely smooth, almost-but-not-quite nasally voice instantly elevates the band above many an upstart pop punk group who stuck whomever was the worst guitar player behind the mic. The drumming is excellent throughout and even steals the show on a few tracks, while the bass should not be understated for its simplistic effectiveness. Slithering guitar lines tie together every aspect of the music, and primary guitarist Lucas Sams isn’t afraid to throw in a blistering solo every now and then, which can be a risky move in pop punk. The band truly does display peerless chemistry on INDTTIN, as the songwriting allows for each member to take the driver’s seat at times and then play a complementary role at others.
Lyrically, this album is, quite simply, phenomenal. While sometimes dwelling on typical themes of life on the road and strained relationships, the overall lyrical arch that Justice writes is about looking at past intentions and dreams, and examining them from an older, wiser, and more mature standpoint. On the chorus of “Rafters”, in a lament of unfulfilled intent, the duo of Justice and Sams sings, “What if I get to heaven, to a sign that reads, “No, your kind’s not welcome.” Neither were your questions, good try, but you’ve heard how we feel here about intentions.” This kind of melancholic lyrical approach is found in other songs as well, such as on the blistering chorus of “Gypsy Summer” and terrific closer “Present Tense”. Then, on the other side of the lyrical token, Justice also writes about the album’s common motif from a positive stance, such as on one of the two superb primarily acoustic tracks (along with the somber opener) “A Negative Mind”, with its euphoric claim of “if there’s good in it, you have to try and find it somehow”. Another lyrical highlight is “Sketchbooks”, which describes touring as being simultaneously uplifting and depressing with lines like, “Let me cope through this backseat view of capitols, listening to all the songs that made me want to be here in the first place”. In short, the lyrics are complex, thoughtful, and downright smart: as impressive as you’re likely ever to see in pop punk.
On My Honor have had more numerous obstacles and setbacks to overcome than most young bands; not only from the scene from which they had to crawl their way out of, but also because they have refused to conform to the norm of other bands in the genre. I Never Deserve The Things I Need is the band’s triumphant battle cry, confirming that this is a band to be reckoned with in coming years.