Thursday, May 19, 2005

Review: Kevin Tihista's Red Terror, Wake Up Captain

Chicago singer-songwriter Kevin Tihista (who records under the moniker Kevin Tihista's Red Terror) comfortably occupies the niche carved out by Elliott Smith and Epic Soundtracks -- quiet, stripped down indie-folk/pop tales of love and depression. Of course, both those artists seem to have met their demise at their own hands; let's hope Tihista fares better. For his third album, Wake Up Captain, Tihista moves beyond the largely acoustic guitar backing that dominated his first two albums, going for a more piano-based sound and fuller orchestration. Simple tunes expand into dense, Brian Wilson-esque soundscapes of harmonies and colorful instrumentation. A couple songs almost, dare I say it, rock (though most don't stray too far from the basic blueprint previously established). A few of these (most notably "Family Curse," one of 2004's more noteworthy songs) are stellar and quite catchy; much like the late great Epic Soundtracks, Tihista seems to be shooting, in places, for that melancholy early 70's piano pop sound championed by Todd Rundgren and Harry Nilsson. Unfortunately, as with his prior work, the disc drags in spots, and getting through the whole thing without skipping a track or three is no easy task. But for those quiet, instrospective mornings, Captain is surprisingly effective, and Tihista is an artist who'd be easily appreciated by those trying to fill Elliott's absence.

While we're at it, I recently picked up Tihista's 2005 collection of home demos and outtakes, Home Demons. Clever title. Alas, it's definitely for hardcore fans only, and even those (i.e. probably me & a couple others) will be largely disappointed. There are a couple fully-realized (and decent) tracks, as well as some unfinished snippets and rough-sounding home recordings. You get maybe 15 minutes of worthwhile music and a lot of filler. Even what should have been an amusing cover, Dave Mason's classic rock staple "We Just Disagree," is a bit of a letdown, though largely because it reminded me how annoying I find most classic rock staples. I'll probably take a few of these for my inevitable Tihista mix cdr, but casual listeners should stick with Wake Up Captain and his fine 2001 debut Don't Breathe A Word (which you can probably pick up used for a couple bucks). [NOTE: Home Demons doesn't appear to be widely distributed; I picked mine up from the fine folks at Parasol Records, a great spot for indie pop & rock.]


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