Even though this is the first release from introverted Chicago dwelling songwriter Kevin Tihista since 2005’s rather curious collection of demos and outtakes Home Demons Vol 1, a hiatus mostly caused by US label wrangles, he’s kept himself busy stockpiling sumptuous mini-symphonies of doomed love.
Having the luxury of a mass of work to choose from, he reportedly discarded all his more ‘upbeat’ material and decided to focus on the darker songs. This streamlining has been a success, resulting in his best collection since 2001 debut Don’t Breathe A Word – which was much praised but suffered from an untimely release date a mere week after 9/11. The distinctively disembodied strings that float through the background of tracks like Teenage Werewolf hark back to that album’s wondrous title track.
Reunited with the producer of Don’t Breathe A Word and his other two ‘proper’ albums, Ellis Clark of the band Epicycle, Tihista’s lush multi-tracked vocals are back on form. He walks a fine tightrope, managing to sound simultaneously grand yet intimate, complex yet simple, literary yet accessibly witty. Opening track Taking It To The Streets again is typical, a sonic sugar coating defying the disappointment of the chorus line “now there’s a million reasons why she is leaving, number one she hates the fact that I’m breathing”. Electric guitar crashes in to add drama as the word ‘blame’ is half whispered. Bats is bright and sparkly soft pop while Jack K opens with the barbed couplet “I’m sorry that I ripped the cover off your Jack Kerouac novel, But I had to blow my nose”. The swooning Laurel Canyon-esque descending acoustic riff of North Carolina follows with our jealous protagonist claiming “I’m gonna have to just kill you both”. It’s a testament to his magical skill with melody and phrasing that he makes this threat sound enticing, almost intoxicating and seductive.
The rest of the album walks similar opulently orchestrated territory, except for brief Lindsey Buckingham style guitar interlude Micky. In Dreams was apparently the track that got the ball rolling with Manchester label Broken Horse and is one of the saddest here, with no real counterpoint to balance the “she’ll come back to me… in dreams” wistfulness. Don’t Let Him In is the longest track, slowly building into a harrowing tale of domestic violence and manslaughter. This being Tihista, it still floats by on a dreamy bed of sighing and yearning chords. I Heard A Voice twists and soars off with the plea “This is me begging for another chance to beg” before the album’s closer Country Road finishes things in more optimistic style, perhaps paving the way for that record of happier pop songs he put on hold.
The most often and obvious comparison is with Elliott Smith, and so perhaps it’s a good thing that Tihista remains something of a special secret. The full glare of the spotlight might not be something he wants or needs. Famously suffering with bouts of stage fright, he’s not a man from whom to expect a tour any time soon. But do relish a fragile and unique talent rediscovering his voice.