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Kevin Tihista | Judo (Parasol)
The tracks that make up 'Judo' were initially intended for release as part of a double album, 'Back to Budapest' for release on Parasol Records. The 'other half' of the songs instead became Tihista's debut album, 'Don't Breathe A Word', that saw him on Atlantic subsidiary, Division One following a mini-album taster on Rough Trade. With both albums now available through Parasol (after the demise of Division One, the debut was temporarily unavailable) the US indie-label seems to have had the last laugh. Whether 'DBAW' was culled as the 'best' from the twenty-four strong collection is debatable but, with notable exceptions, 'Judo' does feel somewhat 'lighter' than its predecessor due to a lack of standouts on a par with Sucker, Beautiful, Doctor and Stoopid Boy. 'Judo' begins with great promise, Back To Budapest is an elegant, sweeping gem. And, like the sublime Second Look, reins in the schmaltz with a to die for melody. No stranger to loungey kitsch, Tihista has an irony-free fondness for '70s sugary stylings and cloying lovelorn lyrics; but the panache with which he delivers them renders criticism futile. "You don't have to be sorry / Because these are heavy times / And we should live it up," he sings, almost pre-empting a cynical response. There's no pretence that his songs are anything but crafted, honest, old-school pop songs but - and the reason his music should be so welcomed - he simply writes and performs them better than anyone else right now. Like the most ornate Elliott Smith songs, with added naivete, much of 'Judo' drifts on a mid-tempo cloud of breezy nonchalance, where even the potentially spiteful Love Plays A Dirty Game is rendered safe by a muted trumpet solo and Beach Boys harmonies. The disco-lite Come On Now, like the previous album's Outta Site Outta Mind, feels a bit forced, and the throwaway I'm In Love With Girls and pretty, but lyrically undeveloped, You Will Be Back Someday mean the album isn't a resounding success. That said, 'Judo' is blessed with enough moments of sonic splendour to ensure a healthy showing in the end of year polls of the more musically minded.

Matt Dornan
August 2002