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Kevin Tihista's Red Terror: Don't Breathe A Word


Kevin Tihista's Red Terror

Album: Don't Breathe A Word
Label: Division One/Atlantic

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Finding the Patient Zero for infectious popular music trends can be difficult, but it's possible that the current wave of orchestrated singer-songwriter reveries—exemplified by the work of Joe Pernice, Rufus Wainwright, and Josh Rouse, among others—can be traced back to Portland dream-pop singer Eric Matthews, whose two late-'90s Sub Pop albums helped codify the sound of ethereal vocals, melancholy melodies, and lush instrumentation. The latest proponent is Kevin Tihista, former bassist for Triple Fast Action and Veruca Salt, now the frontman for Red Terror, a loose assortment of Chicago associates who help him realize his AM-radio dreams on Don't Breathe A Word. Tihista employs a thick lead-guitar sound reminiscent of Abbey Road-era Beatles, adding a fragile, Alex Chilton-like voice and the trappings of horns, organs, and synthesized bells and strings. The concoction achieves maximum potency early on, with the Big Star-ish "Sucker," the throbbing title track, the delicately downbeat "Doctor," the soulful "Outta Site, Outta Mind," and especially the upbeat, piano-and-vibe-pumped "Pretty Please." All five tracks channel diverse instrumental elements (including raw, distorted guitar noise) into a unified radiance that belies their origins as desperate, borderline-drippy love songs. The album's pace falls off in its second half, as Tihista begins to expect atmosphere to make up for gaps in melodic inventiveness; Eric Matthews tends to have the same problem on his records. Of course, the similarities between the two artists may be coincidental. Tihista may well have never heard Matthews, and he and Pernice, Wainwright, and company may be drawing their primary inspiration from the same floating cloud of diffuse beauty that's also alighted overseas and settled over the music of Belle And Sebastian, The Clientele, and The High Llamas. It's a cloud composed of vaporized bits of Brian Wilson, The Left Banke, and the countless one-hit wonders whose treacly crowd-pleasers often define emotions and eras better than the highest art.