Posted on July 16th, 2013 (7:26 am) by Zachary Stavriotis

King Tuff may have not taken the Neo-Glam throne until his critically-acclaimed, chart-topping, self-titled sophomore album of 2012, but the name (derivative of frontman/creator/writer Kyle Thomas’ initials and something that the Greeks might call “Tuff, Rex”—perhaps Marc Bolan had prophesied this) has been an alter ego of Thomas’ for a while now. Back in 2008, before King Tuff was with Sub Pop, it was possible, though not likely, that you owned a rare copy of Was Dead. Five years later and this time with a whole lot more clout, King Tuff has again teamed up with Burger Records to bring Was Dead back to life and into the hands and ears of the many.

King Tuff is part of the lo-fi garage scene where subtle intricacies are hidden beneath a minimalistic exterior. Simple melodies, song structures, and lyrics leave fewer obstacles in the way of the energy and emotion that come bursting unabatedly from wiry guitars. This simplicity is paradoxically deep in its aesthetic significance and lineage. The tradition goes deep into Rock’s genealogy and has never laid dormant. Kyle Thomas’ lyrics oscillate between autobiographical anthems and devoted balladry. People talk about music having a backbone, but Was Dead is more of a free-standing spine.

“Dancing On You” opens the album with a drawn out intro of monotonously strummed chords that are joined first by muted bass following suit and then by the collective boom of the band. The lyrics on “Dancing On You” are charmingly vague. While most of the tracks to follow on the album have very defined topics but these are left open ended. This is a great way to start the album; it’s just nonsensical enough to advertise the lightheartedness of his music but poetic enough to convey the fact that he’s still writing from the heart. The cherry on top, as is the case for many of his songs, is the raw thrashing of the guitar solo - think more along the lines of “Cowgirl In The Sand” than “Castles Made of Sand”. On the next track the bass gets a little bit bouncier and the chords get a whole lot brighter. In fact, “Connection” is a great example of just how bright King Tuff’s chord progressions can and do get on many occasions.

Although Was Dead is remarkably level, “Sun Medallion” comes as somewhat of a high point on the album and you can feel that coming from the get-go. It starts with a series of false starts, broken up by short interjections from the guitar and bass, that resemble the beginning of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. These false-starts segue smoothly into the main melody. Thomas’ vocals are particularly strained and the malady in his inflection complements the aimlessness of the lyrics. A closer listen will reveal a lead guitar line that might’ve initially been hidden by the rhythm guitar, and this is a something you’ll find on other tracks from Was Dead as well as King Tuff. “Sun Medallion” is perfectly placed on the album; it’s a breather between the lively “Connection” and the livelier “Lazerbeam”.

We get to thumb through Thomas’ diary on the next stretch of songs. On “Lady” he sings “The days go by / And still no sign / So I’ll get high / While she’s doing lines / Open my eyes in the morning / The sun is rising.” Good advice from the King himself. If you’re having girl problems, or any problems for that matter, try to remember that tomorrow the sun will rise to begin a new day. he continues to croon about girls on the following songs, “Pretty Dress” and “Ruthie Ruthie” — the latter is a simple ballad but starts out like a drag car revving its engine and never slows down or looks back.

Late on the album we get a personal manifesto in the form of a living will. It’s funny how much death can tell you about life. “Freak When I’m Dead” explains that Kyle wants to be buried in his punk attire because he’ll still be a freak when he’s dead. An acoustic guitar makes a rare cameo on the track and intertwines well with the electric lead and fat bass. This personal manifesto carries over into “Animal” which opens with “Sometimes I feel like a reckless child / Sometimes I feel like going wild.” To reiterate: simple but powerful. It’s comparable to Iggy Pop declaring “I’m a street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm / I’m a runaway son of the nuclear A-bomb.”

King Tuff made a huge splash and, as of right now, it is why King Tuff will be remembered. But before every reign there’s a younger man who knows he’ll one day be king and getting a look into that stage is great for understanding a bands later works and even getting a look at the more ambitious side of oneself. Look at what was accomplished before he was really accomplished.

Track List:
1. Dancing on You
2. Connection
3. Sun Medallion
4. Lazerbeam
5. Lady
6. A Pretty Dress
7. Ruthie
8. Just Strut
9. Kind of Guy
10. Freak When I'm Dead
11. Animal
12. Stone Fox
13. So Desperate

King Tuff, Burger Records, Sub Pop, Was Dead, Kyle Thomas, lo-fi, garage
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

82 / 100
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