This is album number two for King Tuff, a.k.a. Kyle Thomas, a man that looks as you might expect – long-haired, the right amount of filthy and cacophonously mad in the eyes. The self-titled album for King Tuff is a little bit rock, a little bit pop and a lot bit garage rock AND roll. With a self-described “wicked shitty” sound, it percolates through a blend of heavy, weighed-down rock and jump-around, generationally well-rounded pop. The man behind the mic may be a long-haired, tattooed tuff guy, but his voice agrees with a softness that seems to slightly falsify his outer appearance and give into a young equanimity.
“Anthem” starts the album off with a few good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll guitar riffs and dreamy, fuzzy vocals that quickly set the stage for the rest of the album. Go ahead and turn this one up, blast it, absorb it, let it make you feel happy-go-get-lucky and let it be more good news that summer is near. Thomas plays around with vocals that pace back and forth between weighty, gravelly, “no fucks given” rock and playful, good-time pop. Look no further than the dichotomous album cover – a rather large and ominous bat holding a guitar in one hand and a star-topped fairy wand in the other.
“Bad Thing” is a definite hit that will have you singing along eight seconds into the first listen. It gives the album a mid-way boost that’s recognizably the King Tuff we know from his first album back in 2008, Was Dead. Thomas bellows, “I’m a baaaaaaad thing. I’m a bad bad-bad thing,” that loops in a manner beseeching you to turn it up louder each time. His lyrical prowess is well executed in “Stranger,” as he sings of walking the streets in the middle of the night and getting weird.
Thomas pushes a little too far down the pop road with “Baby Just Break the Rules” in a regrettably simplistic, bouncy way. It feels too repetitive and sugary amongst a wealth of grimy rock songs. Perhaps, it was an intentional lead in to “Stupid Superstars,” which actually hits the mark with its parodied qualities. In the song, Thomas’ voice steps away from any rock ‘n’ roll gravel and he puts on a high, soft tone as he croons about “losers of the year… stupid superstars appear and we scream and laugh and everybody cheers.” Moreover, there’s a real gentleness to “Evergreen,” the song following, as Thomas exhibits a warm vulnerability and a kind sound that solicits head bobbing or a kind of temperate toe tapping. Put on “Swamp of Love” and take a moment to let yourself drift back a few generations, sway away and let the groove take over. Wait, is that maracas I hear? Tremendous! The album then finishes off on “Hit and Run” to remind us of the higher energy, clap-along, garage rock that began the album.
There’s a lot happening on King Tuff. There is a still definite J. Mascis-influenced tone (Thomas’ fellow band mate in Witch) and a catchiness that feels a bit Matt & Kim-esque (Thomas’ former tour mates) but, forget what you might expect after Was Dead (that was over four years ago now). Thomas still gives hair shaking, body jiving goodness, but it’s a little less blow your lo-fi speakers out and a little more “everybody jump in my ‘vertible and we’ll let King Tuff take us for a ride ‘round town.” It is an album that is seasonally appropriate and sonically well balanced. The wait for album number two has been worth it. King Tuff will most definitely encourage you to start your summer a few weeks early.
by Caitlyn Browning
Illustration: Hiroshi MizunoAB, Alberta