Monday, January 18, 2016

The Auburnaire

Tittel Turns out an Ardent, Important Second Effort

In 1988 the Cincinnati band The Auburnaires released Bedtime Stories, on the French label, New Rose. I didn't understand then and don't understand now how, pre-internet, a label based in France and a singular post-punk, funk mash-up from Cincinnati found each other but I'm more and more convinced these days that good art – even rock music – seeks its own path, like water telegraphing across a rafter before it finds its way down your interior wall on the other side of the real leak.

If you search eBay for that Auburnaires vinyl record today, you'll find that most copies are available from England. So, it was an import in its day – out of my price range at Everybody's Records in Cincinnati when I was a kid – and it's an import today, further away from Cincinnati as it ever was and right at home there, I suspect.

I bring this up as I had the good fortune to work on the liner notes for the latest New Sincerity Works record, Nowadays, this past summer and hearing it played back now – all lively and compressed and perfectly mixed by Mike Landis and, especially, as a counterpoint to their first record – I'm certain it's destined for and deserving of a bigger home outside of Ohio, too.

Mike Tittel, the songwriter behind New Sincerity Works, spent time as the touring drummer for the legendary underground outfit The Loud Family in the 1990s, built a studio and a home and a family in the Queen City, then got divorced, tied himself up in personal and career knots, tried to figure himself out, and still managed to assemble a dream team for V2.0 of his band: Bob Nyswonger on bass, Roger Klug and Tom White on guitar, Greg Tudor on drums, to say the very least. By 2014, he had issued the critically acclaimed 44 which chronicled a particularly difficult time in his life, falling apart in real time while a crowd of a friends inched him forward at turns, congratulating him either for the honesty of the emotions at the surface or for simply surviving the crash landing.

His new record, though, catches Tittel at an absolute creative peak, confident in his forward direction and having sharpened his songwriting craftsmanship to a fine point. It brims with a cautious hope from start to finish that edges the listener from one track to the next in a way only really great albums can. From "Dreams Worth Keeping" to "Champion" to "Learning to Walk, " Tittel walks the listener through something that feels a lot like redemption yet is careful to swap out any high-minded preachiness for an influx of urgent, perfect drumming, an unmistakable ‘72 Telecaster, and beautifully washy keyboards.

Before you know it, just five or six songs in, you’ve wandered through the best Side A of any record from a Cincinnati-based band since The Afghan Whigs' 1998 masterwork Gentlemen. Trust me on this, I know my shit.

To wit: The first video from the record (for the title track) starts in the expansive, stark black and white landscape of Iceland before landing back in Cincinnati and falling away at the end with "Don't Walk" countdown timer of a downtown street sign. It’s a perfectly executed window into the rest of the album: half-home, half-away-from home, mid-step, hope mashed with resignation.

With 2014’s 44, Tittel covered the first two stages of grief: attack and decay. Nowadays, it’s clear, is his effort to sustain. In the course of assembling the songs and band that make up this record, Tittel has made an album for the ages, no matter if it ends up in a cut-out-bin in France, in your dreams, erased over on a cassette, or spinning around on your turntable. Don’t miss out.

– Jon Roketenetz

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

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