EP Review | Engine Summer Are Not The Back-Street Boys

Engine Summer are a Chicagoan indie rock trio, sharing lead vocal and song writing duties. After meeting in high school and forming several garage bands together over the years, it took until 2016 for Engine Summer to forge their own brand of post-punk influenced power pop. Regulars on the club scene in their hometown, the band are renowned for their DIY ethic—managing promotion and album artwork. They also make their own music videos, taking great care with their aesthetic. Back-Street Boys is the follow-up to their 2019 EP Indiana.

The EP opens with ‘Carol’s Dead’, a spoken-word piece delivered in tandem with a feisty bassline and repetitive riff. A different band member delivers each verse, lending itself to the tightly-wound, collaborative nature of the group. Something that carries through the EP’s seven tracks.

Another persistent feature is the brevity of the songs here. ‘Groovin’ on the 63rd’ is a particularly rapid affair. The verses are faster and the band makes more prominent use of distortion and groove, especially towards the outro—a welcome change from the mid-tempo feel of the EP up to this midway point.

Despite this brief dalliance, however, there isn’t enough here to make Back-Street Boys a particularly interesting or unique listening experience. Paying homage to one’s influences is one thing but wearing them on your sleeve so unashamedly is quite another. On this EP, you can pick out the exact artist each song reminds you of. Engine Summer take blatant cues from Pavement (‘Likes’), Parquet Courts (‘Carol’s Dead’, ‘Suds’) and The Fall (‘Spice Boys’, ‘Groovin’ on 63rd’) without bringing anything new to the table.

As far as harmless, fun, indie-disco floor filler stuff goes, Back-Street Boys serves a purpose. But for a group so influenced by post-punk and lo-fi indie iconoclasts, you would think there’d be more of a lean towards pushing sonic boundaries, or some liberties taken with the song writing form. It’s a palatable listen, but far from essential.


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