Just this week, I got an email from a publicist at Hopeless Records. They were curious if I would be interested in covering the new Sincere Engineer record. If you know me, that question should result in an obvious yes. I saw the band when it was just Deanna and an acoustic guitar. I became enamored after seeing her play Fireside Bowl in 2015. She covered a Slapstick song. At that time, anything with Brendan Kelly in it was a favorite of mine.
But there was some pause after I listened to Cheap Grills. What else is there to say? I felt I told my part two years ago in my first article for The Alternative. My personal history is so tied into Sincere Engineer that anything I write will have personal bias. Not much has changed in the two years. Deanna is much more confident as a performer. That nervy person who personified anxiety is a little less present. You can still see traces of acoustic Sincere Engineer occasionally, with several songs just starting with a lone electric guitar and her vocals.
As I thought more about Cheap Grills, something else was nagging at me. How do we talk about punk bands that are several records into a discography? I’m not expecting some stark turn toward ornate indie rock or ambient music. There are defined parameters behind whatever you consider a Sincere Engineer record. The deviations are minute. I can predict the outlines of each song. You can even extend this thought towards recent albums by Jeff Rosenstoack and PUP. I’m quick not to think much of them, even if there is nothing bad about either on the surface. There are a couple of songs on each that I might have a weeklong obsession with. But music writer rot leads me to shrug them off quickly. They don’t have the newness of an emerging band yet to settle into a comfort zone and make their defining record.
Maybe I’m just chasing a high that I’ll never recover. I can still remember going to Township in 2017 and attending the first Sincere Engineer show. There was a buzz as we all wondered if Deanna could pull it off. That dreary winter night was the culmination of a scene on the northwest side of Chicago. Everything felt new and as if there were infinite possibilities. I wondered if another one of my friends in that insular scene’s bands would be scooped up next by Red Scare.
Now, Cheap Grills feels like another record in a long list of things to listen to. That initial excitement is gone; that may be more representative of how my relationship with music has changed. It takes a lot more to truly transport me back to a version of myself that doesn’t exist anymore. Occasionally, it happened while listening to Cheap Grills. I love that it ends with an acoustic track, allowing me to still feel the throughline to a version of the project that sits on my Google Drive. I feel ashamed to admit it, but halfway through listening to the album, I was just waiting for it to end.