Album review: Kevin Tihista – Modern Standard

by Thomas Blake

Strictly speaking, this is not a new album. A collection of songs under the title Modern Standard has been kicking around in Kevin Tihista’s kitbag  since the mid-2000s, but due to record label problems and bad luck remained unreleased. In 2012, and with a massive backlog of songs, he chose to release On This Dark Street, a wonderfully crepuscular, bittersweet collection. Now, finally, Modern Standard gets aired. Whether the songs are the same as those that were shelved a few years ago is not known, and perhaps not relevant. This release, musically at least,  is upbeat – sometimes to the point of cheesiness – and takes Tihista’s love for American 1970s soft rock songwriters to a happy extreme.

Many of Tihista’s other influences are notably British. Sequisha Chingade Picante’s intro is a kind of piano-led take on the Beatles’ Something while closer On My Way channels the chorus of Don’t Let Me Down and comes up with an optimistic West Coast wonder. The album’s lyrical wit and pop sensibility owe a debt to Squeeze, XTC and the Kinks.

The  rich, light-and-dark pop of Happy People, Shut Your Mouths and Right Here, Girl with their themes of positivity tempered by negative experience are like a grown-up Big Star. Disco-pop drums introduce the lively breakup song You Don’t Make Sense, before the chorus is buoyed up on the jauntiest of guitar hooks. It’s the most radio-friendly thing you’ll never hear on the radio. Tender chord changes and cascading piano lines are the order of the day on the lush Texas Girl, maybe the record’s finest moment. It’s part Harry Nilsson, part David Gates and part 10cc (but softer, freer of irony, and all the better for it).

As always with Tihista, the songs on Modern Standard worm their way into your consciousness so instantaneously that they feel like they’ve always been there. Sometimes this is because they are loving pastiches (or shameless rip-offs) of sixties and seventies classics, but more often it is simply the result of effortlessly catchy songwriting. It sounds so damned cool that it is in fact desperately uncool, and as a consequence nobody is going to buy it. Which is a shame, because it’s utterly brilliant. Get it for your parents if they still listen to their old Bread records, your mates if they’re Alex Chilton fans, your girlfriend if you think she’s about to break up with you. It might not ease your woes, but it will provide them with the perfect soundtrack.