Album Review

King Tuff

King Tuff

By King Tuff

Sub Pop
7.5 / 10
28th June 2012

By Ricardo Kerr


King Tuff is the story of Kyle Thomas, a man who has been in and around the fringes of some of the world's weirdest rock music for years. First there was his band Feathers, a freak-folk outfit full of freaky folky people, he played guitar for Oakland power-punks Hunx and His Punx and also of note, was his stint as guitarist / vocalist in stoner metal band Witch, playing alongside Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis. Kyle Thomas, it seems, is nothing if not diverse. King Tuff is the name of his solo recordings and King Tuff (the album) is his second, a follow-up to 2008's Was Dead. The first record was a sleeper hit with the garage rock crowd, all guitar strut and sour melody, but with King Tuff (again, the album) Thomas has set his sights a little bit higher. Even the album cover smacks of DIY – a bat with a horned skull for a head clutching a guitar in one claw and a magic wand in the other.

Here we have a set of twelve sharp songs running at a hair over 40 minutes. Most of the tracks on King Tuff don't even scrape the four minute mark, with many taking the classic garage rock format of a cool two minutes-something. That doesn't leave much time for messing around so Thomas just gets down to business with 'Anthem', and what an anthem it is! With lines like “sing the love song that rots in your head” and “don't ever look back, there's blood to splatter and skulls to crack” you would not be blamed for conjuring shlock horror images of the Evil Dead movies in your head as you listen to it. The closing stanza “pray you'll always be a fucked up kid, so pledge allegiance to the blood and shit” is clothed in a nihilistic guitar fuzz so thick you could spread it on your toast. 'Alone and Stoned' seems to ape the wry maximalist power pop of The Mint Chicks, the guitars dribbling out of Marshall stacks rather than exploding. Elements of Meat Puppets-style country worm their way into a few songs, like 'Baby Just Break' which is just one fiddle solo away from being a full blown hoedown. And while it might sound ridiculous on paper, 'Swamp Of Love' is a remarkably appropriate name for the song that it belongs to.

While this is practically a solo record Thomas does not have to go it completely alone. His band is bolstered by Magic Jane on bass and Henny on drums - sufficed to say these might be pseudonyms. The rough and tumble aesthetic that these two bring to the table definitely adds volumes to the greasy slack-jawed pop punk that King Tuff is all about. The album lopes and shimmies like it was released in alternative rock's early 90s golden era; you can practically hear the plaid shirts wrapped around the slacker mantra. What is remarkable is how much restraint went into the creation of all of this. There are tracks (such as the aforementioned 'Anthem' as well as the sheer nonsense of 'Hit & Run') that threaten to leap into the abyss and drown in their own raucous, wanton ways but Thomas and crew know when to rescue them from the point of no return and reign it in. Almost at odds with the band's credentials, the pop hooks are at the forefront of King Tuff and they are not sacrificed for anything.






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