Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Weather at Fruit Hill

New Sincerity Drops The Pretense

44, the excellent new album by the guys and gal in New Sincerity Works, has had it's share of glowing reviews and accolades. A look-no-hands-barred open letter documenting a raft of heartbreak and written big as a billboard, 44 shoves songwriter Mike Tittel out from behind the kit for the first time in a long time.

I won't drag you through a full review – because I don't know how to write one – and because you'd do better to own it and judge for yourself. If you live in Southern Ohio, it's already required listening or been duly banned by your local municipality anyhow.

Here's the true low-down on three important tunes:

1. "I'm Not The Problem" is as good as any problem-based song I've ever run into and that includes a fairly heavy emotional connection to Jackson Browne's "My Problem is You" as well as The Replacement's "My Little Problem," which I've witnessed performed live as a duet between Paul Westerberg and Dan Baird.
That's how good.

2. "As If We Are 24" features lyrics intricate enough I'm still somewhat afraid to unpack it fully. The second guitar on the chorus doesn't sound like Keith Richards, it sounds like Ron Wood.

3. "Less Me, Less You" – the sleeper – drops us in a room filled with "shiny pants" (favorite line: "hey, best friend with the hillbilly dance") but reminds us how easy it is to plug the pinholes of our lives with criticism of others. It's not me, it's you. Wait, I mean it's me, not you.

Mike Tittel, the engineer behind this entire episode, lives on Fruit Hill and spent the first part of his career as a photographer, so you'd not be surprised to learn that the graphic elements shine on the packaging, too. The cover sings. It's the San Francisco you should know, not the one you do. And, the typography sings, as well, though certainly the two 4s should face away from each other. If you buy the record, Tittel promises to lob other visual elements at you via text message.

And he delivers.

In the band's promo poster below, half of the message is absolutely plain to see: The bass player looks like a keyboard player. The drummer insists on wearing a hat indoors. One guitar player won't put down his soda, the other won't tell us what's so funny. Tittel can't even look you in the eye.

The the other half ain't so obvious, though, leaving the curious wanna-be fan with more uncomfortable questions than not. Who is this group? Are they knowable? Do I want to know them? Are the broken aparts alone ever greater than a sadly tethered sum? Can they put down their Kinks covers long enough to make another record?

We'll find out well before 55 if the weather at Fruit Hill holds.

Cue the handclaps right after O'Callaghan's solo. If you haven't heard this album yet, go hear it. Or, go watch the video about the making of the record. Or, go find fifteen songs you never knew you had in you.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of GimmeAnother, founder of 3VERB, and occasional musician.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Right Image: A Zippo Lighter

Finding the Real Meaning of Utility and Reliability

About a year or so ago I got wise to the toll that constant (often well-meaning) external opinion into my creative world was taking and I set out to reset my bearings with purpose. At the time we were starting to be responsible for more product photography at 3VERB and the studio was set up and ready to go.

My idea was to assemble and shoot a quick collection of daily items that represented my world but, more specifically, also represented a stack of conceptual ideas – reliability, utility, and goodwill – which I hope define my approach at 3VERB. The watch, the notebook, the knife shown in the picture were all easy choices. I rely on each, in some regard, every day and certainly expect each item to be 'on-board' as I walk out the door each morning. They are my 'Every Day Carry.'

More complex, though, was another item I wanted, for sure, in the picture: my grandfather's Zippo. Having given up cigarettes a dozen years ago, I no longer needed access to quick, pocket-able fire. What I needed access to, at that time and now, is the reminder of my grandfather's way, his goodwill, his nature and demeanor. For me, these provide the groundwork for an honest shot at the reliability and utility I'm searching for around the corner of so many marketing and product corners. I needed his name stamped in metal.

The end result, a printed marketing piece, wound up being one of my favorite 3VERB outreach cards, crisp and kinda poignant, and an important reminder that my responsibilities go beyond production. I was proud that it felt sincere and not cynical or ironic. I've included front and back (magnified, clickable) images below.
For the purpose of this blog and my renewed commitment to writing on a regular basis, the title "Right Image" will serve as a searchable tag (at right) and excuse to find (and write about) other images and strong visuals that resonate with me. Look out for more soon.

– Jon Roketenetz

Jon is the CEO of Chicago-based tech innovator GimmeAnother and founder of 3VERB.