Friday, 19 January 2018

Album Review: Rhombithian by Sincere Engineer (by Emma Prew)

Sincere Engineer is the name that Chicago native Deanna Belos goes by when she’s armed with an acoustic guitar and writing and playing songs. Last autumn (or fall if you’re American, like Sincere Engineer) she teamed up with a full band for her debut album, Rhombithian, which was released by Red Scare Industries. I must admit that the album completely passed me by when it was initially released until Colin mentioned that he thought I would like it – and when Colin says he thinks I’ll like something he’s usually correct.

Hitting play on the track number one, Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7, for the first time I exclaimed ‘Yeah, I like this!’ within seconds and decided to have a go at reviewing the album. The main thing that immediately strikes me is what an amazing and distinct voice Deanna has, whilst clearly not being overproduced. ‘What am I supposed to do now? When you’re still not around, When you’re all I think about.’ Corn Dog Sonnet No. 7 is fairly upbeat, super catchy and definitely serves as a fine album opener. The lyrics strike me as being completely down to earth and honest with themes covering falling asleep on the couch and not wanting to leave the house. The anxious themes continue into second song, Ceramic Tile. More than just an ode to a bathroom tile – I don’t think that’s a phrase I’ll ever use again – this is somewhat of an anthem for hangovers. If you’ve ever been drunk enough to feel it the next day then you may well have experienced lying on the aforementioned tiled floor. The song is a mid-tempo one with slightly strained vocals but not in a bad way. Overbite is next up on Rhombithian and this is probably one of my favourite tracks on the whole album. The song is about how Deanna was, or is even, smart enough to have been a dentist but she knew that it just wasn’t right for her. She could have tried harder but it was not what she wanted. Musically the song reminded me of Captain, We’re Sinking and I guess there are similarities with both artist’s emo influence. My favourite bit is definitely the faster paced and infectious chorus – which seems far more cheery than it actually is. ‘I don’t care about anything as much as I used to, I don’t care about anything as much as I used to.’ and also to the same tune ‘I still feel just about as dumb as I used to, I still feel just about as dumb as I used to.’ 

Kicking off with a slow melodic guitar opening and gentle background ooh-woahs, the fourth song Screw Up brings the tone down a notch more with the opening line ‘I’m gonna screw up again…’  This is a song about lacking in self-confidence and being sick of feeling stuck at a certain point in your life. It’s pretty brave, if you ask me, for Deanna to have put so much of herself into these songs and I greatly admire her for that. There is also a really great folky-punky fairly fast bridge section before all of her remaining emotion is put into the last chorus. ‘And they’ll all think I’m nuts but I don’t give a fuck, Just as long as they’ll let me come crawling back.’  The distorted ending of Screw Up cuts straight into Shattering, a carefree track with some more don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. A nice touch that I don’t think we’ve heard until now is that the guitar echoes the melody of that first verse – which is pretty darn catchy to boot. ‘I’m gonna jump in Lake Michigan and swim out as far as I can.’  It’s sure to get your head nodding. The vocals are that little bit more raw as Deanna verges on screaming in parts but she has such an incredible voice that it doesn’t sound too raw. (If that makes any sense!) Here’s Your Two Dollars is the next song and it is an interesting one because it seems very much like an aural representation of the image on the album cover. There are bad dreams, anxieties, ideas of sinking and drowning all thrown into the song. It is much slower paced than previous tracks with a steady drumbeat. The whole thing feels almost dreamlike, which really matches up with the lyrical content. However the chorus is more upbeat and the drums become more rumbling – ‘I’m waking up, I’m rising up to the surface, And goddamn I feel so nervous.’ Towards the end of the song everything starts to fades out – this signal the end of Side A on the record perhaps.

Track number 7 is called 1K Rats and it begins with an acoustic guitar which accompanies the first short verse. At first I wasn’t sure if the whole song would remain acoustic but soon enough drums kick in along with electric guitar and bring back the full band dynamic. As well as the full band sound we have the picturesque and wonderfully direct lyrics of ‘Now I’m throwing up in a parking lot.’ It feels like the vocals are kept a little more restrained for this song. It is still not exactly ‘sweet’ as Deanna packs plenty of punch with her vocal chords alone but the change from previous tracks is noticeable. Towards the end of the song we are treated to a neat short guitar solo that echoes chorus ‘All I wanna do is spend the day with you.’ Lovely! Candle Wax is next up and it doesn’t hang around – straight in there with the volume cranked up. The pounding drums keep your head nodding along while the guitar riff gets lodged in your head. Musically the track is reminiscent of Americana-style punk rock but the vocals remain angsty. This is a song about drinking, hangovers, being young, making mistakes and apologising for them, as well as realising afterwards that ‘I should have saw it coming.’ In punk rock style, this song features some rousing gang vocals.

It feels like perhaps Deanna has saved the more personal and confessional songs for last as Let You Down opens with the lines ‘How often do you think about dying?, Because it haunts me every time I sleep, So I’ll just stay awake and watch cable TV.’ This is a slow, heart-wrenching and emotion-fuelled track about quite simply not wanting to let someone down. The theme of bad dreams is also back adding to the concept of the album as a whole. I really loved the warm melodic guitar riff after the chorus. After an almost eerie noise that accompanies the penultimate song’s guitar intro, Keep You Company kicks off at a mid-tempo pace. This is quiet track about dealing with feeling lonely and insecure – ‘If you’re lonely, If you’re lonely, Let me keep you company.’ The word that springs to mind is ‘Emo’. These days people think emo is, or was in the early 2000s, bands that wore too much eyeliner and make an obvious point of being ‘sad’. but that’s not quite it really. Although this is a sad song, I feel like there’s an element of hopefulness in there as well. We end the album with a completely stripped back and acoustic track, Ghosts In The Graveyard. Obviously this album is my first experience of Sincere Engineer and Deanna Belos but I imagine this is what she sounded like before the full band. Luckily she sounds excellent, full band or not, and if there was going to be an acoustic track then it makes sense to be the album’s closer really. Ghosts In The Graveyards is about trying to figure out what’s going on in your own head when you have lots of thoughts ‘swimming around’ – ‘There’s plenty of fish in this graveyard, There’s plenty of ghosts in the sea.’ Deanna singing ‘And we keep running.’ with multiple voices in the background shouting ‘Nah, you can’t catch me, you can’t catch me.’ back at her is a perfect ending to a brilliant debut album.

I didn’t know Sincere Engineer before this release, well not even then for a couple more months after its release, but I’ll be sure to check out whatever they do next because Rhombithian is excellent. Don’t just take my word for it, listen now!

You can stream three of the tracks and download the full album now on Bandcamp. You can also give Sincere Engineer on Facebook – because they deserve more than 1,600 likes!

This album review was written by Emma Prew.

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