Album review: Sincere Engineer – Cheap Grills

Amusingly serious confessionals from emotive and poppy Chicago punks Sincere Engineer…

Album review: Sincere Engineer – Cheap Grills
Mischa Pearlman

Started as a solo project by Deanna Belos in 2015, Sincere Engineer has, kind of, since evolved into something more like a fully-fledged band. Certainly, this second record – the follow-up to 2017’s Rhombithian debut – sounds nothing like solo project, but then neither did the first. That’s because Sincere Engineer deal in that delightfully scrappy-but-actually-really considered-and-thought-out brand of poppy punk.

As on that first album, Deanna has mastered the art of infusing her jittery melodies with lyrics that tread the line between humour and pathos. It’s a combination made all the more potent by her emphatic vocal delivery – her voice can be both tender and vulnerable and jagged and raw, and occasionally all at the same time, as on Inside My Head.

That tussle and tension between raucous and hushed is nothing new in alternative/punk, but it works to great effect on all 12 of these tracks. Listen, for instance, to the way that Library Of Broken Bindings ebbs and flows between the two, accelerating in a rush of intense emotion, slowing down, then speeding back up again as Deanna pours her heart out about isolation and the comfort that reading books brings.

Elsewhere, Fireplace displays that comedic melancholy perfectly, its heart-torn catharsis juxtaposed with some hilarious absurdism as she sings with real venom: ‘I hate your guts / Wouldn’t even help if you were stuck / In some guy’s basement / And he was getting ready to chop you up.’ It’s an effective device, one that manages to convey something serious through something entirely opposite.

But despite the funny moments here, at this record’s heart is a real vulnerability – as Deanna sings on opener Anemia: ‘I’m a walking open wound / Don’t make any sudden moves.’ The extended metaphor that dominates the acoustic, string-laden closer Blind Robin is perhaps a little overwrought, but by confronting that vulnerability in these effortlessly catchy songs, she’s also fighting back against it. And while this record runs out of steam and intensity here and there just before that on A Touch Of Hell and Cinderblocks, the important thing Is that it should inspire anyone who listens to also fight off their inner demons. For that, the terrible pun of its title can be forgiven.

Verdict: 3/5

For fans of: The Lawrence Arms, Mixtapes, Worriers

Cheap Grills is released on September 22 via Hopeless

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