King Tuff is the project of Vermont native Kyle Thomas. Though King Tuff is largely a garage psych project, Thomas has been involved in a variety of other acclaimed projects that cross genre lines. Thomas first came to national attention as a part of the Vermont avant-folk group Feathers, a whimsical psychedelic folk collective signed to Devendra Banhart's Gnomesong label. Heading in a heavier direction, Thomas signed up with rock legend J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. in 2006 to sing for his heavy metal group Witch. A couple of years later Thomas released his self-titled debut as King Tuff, establishing his current swaggering garage psych sound. Not one to stand still, in 2010 Thomas helped form Vermont's Happy Birthday, a light-hearted garage rock band that was signed to Sub Pop records after only playing five shows. He released his sophomore effort as King Tuff on May 29th, 2012.
Not that they'd admit it, but many progressive indie rockers these days embrace the image of oh-so-sophisticated artiste when possible. And then you've got King Tuff, who you're pretty sure just loves the sound of loud guitars and having fun. King Tuff, a.k.a. Kyle Thomas, has got more than his fair share of talent. He's also a member of Brattleboro, VT power pop act Happy Birthday and Feathers, both excellent in their own right. His latest outing as King Tuff, and first for Sub Pop, is full of rock and roll swagger and candied melodies. It's got the infectiously fun feel of a guy who isn't trying to impress anybody, just letting his hair down and having a good time. Maybe the free flowing feel is a construct, and Thomas sits in his bedroom all day studying the minutiae of T. Rex and Guided By Voices chord changes. Well if so, he's cracked the code.
Thomas knocks it out of the park with “Alone and Stoned,” a fuzzy three minutes of irrepressible rock dipped with just enough whimsical psychedelia. He sings in a bratty whine that somehow fits the music incredibly well as he busts out a near-perfect power-pop melody, singing “stare at all the shit in your bedroom/and take a walk on the moon.” Lead single “Bad Thing” recalls the ultimate Sub Pop band, Nirvana, minus the angst. It's got a grunge ferocity to it, and Kurt Cobain's knack for disguising pop song structures behind heavy guitar chords so skillfully it just works. When Thomas repeats “I'm a bad, bad, bad thing” you don't really believe his sincerity, it sounds like he's having too much fun.
At other points on the album Thomas steps out of pure rock mode. “Keep On Movin'” flaunts some David Bowie-style glam and “Evergreen” is beautiful downtempo dream-pop.
Overall, King Tuff is a consistently satisfying album of exuberant guitar rock. Thomas flirts with psychedelic touches and heaps in plenty of crunching distorted guitars, but it's his knack for effortlessly fun hooks that will keep you coming back.