Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Garage Rock Revival
As King Tuff, multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Kyle Thomas melts down garage rock hedonism, glam rock glitter, and undeniable pop catchiness into one unstoppable force. Early albums saw Thomas offering up more lo-fi readings of his tunes, sounding like unearthed singles from the heyday of '70s power pop filtered through a deeply damaged lens of garage rock psychosis. With Black Moon Spell, his third album and second for indie luminaries Sub Pop, King Tuff offers up the most varied look yet at his multicolored muse, amping up both the psychedelic and tuneful tendencies on every song.
Kyle Thomas' King Tuff returns fiercer than ever with his take on psychedelia and classic rock, with generous doses of headbanging, humour and sentimentality. Black Moon Spell is an impressively diverse album, from the ballad "Staircase of Diamonds" and slick greaser tune "Eddie's Song" to the pared down acoustic "Ugly" and Ramones-y "Sick Mind. "Tuff's world is coloured with entertaining anecdotes delivered via skeezy vocals, from the "Demon from Hell" that vomits acid on his shoes, to the retro ray-gun sound effect on "Black Holes in the Stereo" that perfectly sets the scene for teenaged Tuff to learn more at the record store than in class.
When Kyle Thomas was writing what would eventually become his first record as King Tuff—in a musty basement in Brattleboro, Vermont—he crafted a perfectly catchy debut that achieved cult status by record collectors thanks to its limited pressing and sunshine hooks, and serendipitously would lead him to King Tuff, the band, almost a decade later. A high-voiced hippie punk in a studded jacket and sun medallion who likes positive vibes and screaming guitar solos, he has played stoner metal with J Mascis in Witch, and spent time in bands Feathers and Happy Birthday, but finally found his groove here as the madcap leader of this L. A.
No matter what Kyle Thomas does, his music seems foundational. The stoner rock of Witch was rooted in all manner of Sabbath-channeling tradition. The oddness of folk collective Feathers still had clear ties to a dusty musical past. In Happy Birthday, Thomas channeled his rock side into various and sweet power-pop tangents.
Kyle Thomas is the musician, King Tuff the character he plays. On this third album, the LA-based scruff is in autobiographical mood: “King Tuff is my name, I got madness in my brain” (‘Madness’); “I play the guitar like a demon from hell” (‘Demon From Hell’). His lyrics would be silly in sloppier hands, but Thomas is a master craftsman with pedigree – he played with J Mascis in metal band Witch and jams with fellow garage-rock titan Ty Segall, who drums on the title track here – and ‘Black Moon Spell’ is scuzzy, wired and bulging with Marc Bolan vocals, riffs Jimmy Page forgot to stick on any Zeppelin album and a bunch of outrageously catchy choruses.
Kyle Thomas unabashedly revels in his penchant for glam rock. Performing under the name King Tuff, the Vermont singer and guitarist doesn’t shy away from the ostentatious. As part of the psych folk outfit Feathers and the metal group Witch, Thomas constructed a flair built on the hazy nostalgia of ’60s and ’70s rock. It wasn’t until he branched out as a solo artist that he catapulted his classic rock disposition into a magnetism all its own, something worthy of stadium-size vehemence.
The first riff on Black Moon Spell (on the title track, no less) is proof that Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff) is gunning for a space among the guitar heroes. He's always had a taste for the bewitching, but this record is far keener on intoning all aspects of the grimoire correctly. He's no longer content in his garage; this is music for open fields. .
There has to be some chemical in vinyl that brings out the most embarrassing kind of rockism in people who sing about it. Obviously, U2 would fall victim—you could only acquire Songs of Innocence by doing the exact opposite of crate digging, and yet they put a damn LP on the cover anyway—and even a goofball like King Tuff (aka Kyle Thomas) is not immune. “Black Holes in Stereo” is the tenth song on his new album Black Moon Spell, and it threatens to topple his entire garage-glam enterprise.
There is nothing we drama whores like more than a touch of madness. The live disintegration of Vanessa Feltz’s sanity on Celebrity Big Brother all those years ago saw a gaggle of reality TV fanatics revel in a cruel stupor that someone was breaking down. In music, any unhinged quality is absolute gold dust for those seeking cult status and myth. King Tuff is a character who has had a cult construct surround him since the release of his debut album.
King Tuff — Black Moon Spell (Sub Pop)Bring out the big guitars. Kyle Thomas’ latest album as King Tuff sheds the folkie-dreamy aura that seeped through the 2012 self-titled and lets it rip. You could forget, listening to this album that Thomas sat in for Devendra Banhart’s freak folk family photo on Cripple Crow, or that he once crooned over ephemeral acoustic tunes on the wonderful and (sadly only) Feathers album.
On his 2012 self-titled album, his first for Sub Pop, Kyle Thomas (a.k.a. King Tuff) became a hero at writing gooey garage punk filtered through a sticky haze of weed smoke. High and in the clouds one minute and high and on the couch the next, the in-the-pocket songwriting features a giddy mix of charming sandy-beach summer tunes—complemented by a shit-eating grin and a wink at The Monkees—and shredding classic-rock-ready guitar riffage (try to ignore the fact that Thomas’ embellished vocal timbre occasionally strikes a chord between Bugs Bunny and Nobunny).
Magic potions, demons, filthy desires and record collections are all subjects that have long surpassed the label of rock ‘n’ roll cliché, right? Black Moon Spell, the third proper full-length from scuzz-hero King Tuff (aka Kyle Thomas) doesn’t give a crap about that though. By expanding the glam and somewhat narcissistic tendencies of Was Dead into heavier territory, Thomas has created a universe populated by stone-washed misfits who find some sort of catharsis in singing about how good they are at playing guitar. Save any eye-rolling, because Black Moon Spell works wonderfully thanks to Thomas’s unwavering charisma.
It’s been 43 years since Led Zeppelin’s IV, that infamous album of rock ‘n Roll indulgence and beauty, but the myths that surrounded those ‘snorting coke off groupies in a Rolls Royce in a swimming pool’ times have all but been shattered in the 21st Century. Led Zeppelin were quite tame behind closed doors as it turns out, Ozzy’s gone clean, and as for Pete Townsend – we best leave that there. King Tuff (aka Kyle Thomas’ mad alter-ego) is either someone to treasure, a spirit from those golden days, or a pissed-up, drugged-up lunatic who’s gonna ride his motorbike through the civilised world of the Bake Off bubble and wreak havoc.