REVIEW: King Tuff - "King Tuff"

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King Tuff - King Tuff
Label: Sub Pop
Release Date: May 26th, 2012

When it comes to albums that remain underappreciated in 2012, one of Sub Pop’s newest signees sits atop the list. Kyle Thomas, better known as King Tuff and possibly even better known for his Jimmy Page hairstyle, wasn’t the first onto the garage rock revival scene, but on his sophomore album he may have just perfected it.

With nary a dull moment, King Tuff bounces from swooning yet comedic love song to raging guitar riffs at the drop of a hat, and the sincerity with which he does so warrants not only praise, but nonstop head banging. Tuff is often spoken about in the same breaths as contemporaries like Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and even the late Jay Reatard, but there is a cold hard precision to Tuff’s music that is lacking in his competition's tunes. It’s a garage rock album put out by Sub Pop instead of Burger Records or Drag City, and for the most part the record benefits from that. From the foot-stomping, guitar-reeling opening jam “Anthem,” Tuff immediately establishes that he’s more confident than ever in his new home. “Alone & Stoned” continues the humorous aloofness that surrounded his debut record, and even though the speed is less pedal-to-the-floor and more pop fuzz furious, the controlled pace of the album is the perfect antidote to the barrage of nonsense garage music the past few years.

Between the whistling keys on “Unusual World” and the infectious hand claps of “Keep on Movin’,” Tuff mixes a variety of genres but there’s one thing for certain: the guitar is king on the record. Whether it’s the album art or the sounds itself, the squealing noise of plucked strings and picked notes helps Tuff solidify his unique place in the scene. And there’s no better example of that than “Stranger.” Immediately striking with its revolving, scaling tones and Tuff’s vocals flying between baritone and falsetto, “Stranger” makes even the most novice, gazing rock fan pay attention. It’s the same sort of sensation that occurs when tracks like T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” or Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” come on; an immediate and uncontrollable fixation on the way Tuff makes the guitar work. Combined with Tuff’s stretching, screeching vocals and overall confident nature, it's clear that few rock songs are written the way “Stranger” is written. The rest of the album follows suit, completely unafraid of what’s en vogue yet remaining restrained enough to allow the record to breathe.

It’s a fine line to tow, especially when the more experimental garage outfits are just beginning to take off, but it’s the mindless brilliance of “Baby Just Break The Rules” and “Anthem,” along with the monumental  power of “Stranger” that makes King Tuff one of the standout records of the year, even if that’s not the way it has been reviewed.


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