Kevin Tihista – Modern Standard

Kevin Tihista - Modern Standard

Kevin Tihista – Modern Standard

After a low-key yet triumphant return from the wilderness with last year’s bittersweet break-up song-cycle set, On This Dark Street, Kevin Tihista could easily have taken another lengthy hiatus, content in the knowledge that he had delivered one of the best releases of his contrarian career.  Yet said LP came with a side-promise that some more upbeat songs were just waiting in his home demo tape pile for the time and funds to record them properly.  Keeping to that pledge, Tihista returns swiftly – by his own recent scheduling standards at least – with the buoyant Modern Standard.

The album isn’t an entirely straightforward pop-centric affair of course, especially given that its lyrical core is still as misanthropic as Luke Haines, as self-lacerating as Loudon Wainwright III and as bleakly-romantic as prime-cut Morrissey.  Musically however, it’s a more eclectic and open collection, with a sprightlier mood than its predecessor.  In effect, if On This Dark Street was largely documenting piecemeal repairs to a broken heart, then Modern Standard is about putting it back on the open market with the glow of cavalier swagger.

Like its prequel though, Modern Standard is skilfully sequenced to unfurl with a flow that sustains a continuous listen, even if there are more ‘standalone’ sections this time around.  Thus, the sublime piano-led “Infinity” and the honeyed “Right Here, Girl” open proceedings subtly with smouldering subversions of ‘70s singer-songwriting idioms that are both yearning and mischievous.  In their wake comes the soaring guitar-smeared and harmony-soaked “Just Can’t Get High Anymore,” laced with typically choice Tihista lyrical nuggets such as, “I was as high as the sky, now I’m just face down on the floor.”  Even more overtly rousing are the ensuing strains of “The City,” which meticulously marries T Rex glam boogie to borderline vaudevillian theatrics, whilst packing in hilariously self-mocking lines like, “Somebody has got to subscribe to this life / Final offer, I’m selling my soul at half price.”

By the midpoint of the collection, Tihista takes himself back to the piano stool for “Try The Veal,” perhaps the most love/hate track, documenting a dysfunctional relationship with a – hopefully – fictional landlady, that could be the album’s less harrowing answer to “Don’t Let Him In” from On This Dark Street.  More instantly likeable is the disco-throbbing “You Don’t Make Sense,” which follows with an addictive shifting groove, ahead of a move to the endearing romantic cocktail lounge paean of “Texas Girl.”  With “Happy People, Shut Your Mouths” Tihista revisits the openly-rueful pastures of On This Dark Street, almost defiantly so, with couplets like, “Don’t let anybody tell you there’s no need to feel sad / Those are some of the best times that I have ever had,” coming across as de facto manifesto statements for those self-absorbed in their own fractured love-lives.  With “Sequisha Chingade Picante” the wallowing downcast disposition is continued, albeit with a little more self-deprecation, before “On My Way” closes the record atop gospel-like organ swells and a more optimistically dreamy tone.

With its looser remit, Modern Standard may not quite match the cohesion of On This Dark Street but it’s arguably an easier entry-point set for newcomers into Tihista’s world.  For those already converted to Kevin Tihista’s esoteric charms, this deliciously diverse album will undoubtedly keep the faithful going until his next eagerly-awaited instalment.

Broken Horse