So I may have been wrong about Kyle Thomas, aka King Tuff. I know he’s been around for a few years now and that he’s got connections to Ty Segall and that whole crew of prolific garage/punk/pop artists that seem to be readying new albums every couple months. Around 2012 Thomas seemed to be all the talk amongst those guys and gals in the know. I was told I needed to check out the King Tuff album, which I did. Musically it was a fun listen. Very pop-oriented with some punk rock energy, but I just couldn’t sign on because his vocals didn’t jive with my brain all that much. He’s a perfectly fine singer, don’t get me wrong. But it just wasn’t agreeing with me personally. I even tried the stoner metal outfit Witch that Thomas plays in with J Mascis and Dave Sweetapple. Still no dice(the vocals again, sadly.)
I was told King Tuff had a new album coming out so I figured I’d give it a listen. Well I can say that either King Tuff has expanded his sound or I’ve changed since my last outing with him. The Other, Thomas’ newest record as King Tuff is a dense, beautifully ornamented pop record that feels very personal and deep and easily the best King Tuff record yet.
On 2014s Black Moon Spell, Kyle Thomas hadn’t changed up King Tuff’s sound more than he refined it to the ultimate fuzz guitar sound and pop hook. He shaved it down to the most necessary garage rock vibe needed. On The Other, the sound has been rewired and reimagined as a Jon Brion album, complete with melancholy power pop hooks and earnest songwriting. Album opener and title track “The Other” is pushed along with a dreamy synth and Thomas’ very adept and restrained vocals. The production is damn near eloquent, sounding more Beach House than Beach Slang. It’s an eye and ear opening listen to start out with. “Raindrop Blue” keeps the newfound restraint in full swing. The track; with keys, horns, falsetto vocals, and distinct 70s groove, sounds like Walls and Bridges-era John Lennon. The Burger Records days seem but a distant memory here(like it or not.) “Thru the Cracks” floats along on ethereal background vocals and a symphonic pop vibe. Thomas seems to have come into his own as a vocalist here. The nasally tone he possessed before seems to have been traded in for a more Marc Bolan swagger here. Thomas also seems to be pulling from a more personal place on this album, which makes the record that much more endearing.
Elsewhere, “Psycho Star” keeps the T. Rex grooves going with a hefty dose of Alan Parsons’ Project thrown in for good measure. “Birds of Paradise” goes full-on 70s rock and soul with big grooves and big horns and “Ultraviolet” brings some of that fuzz rock goodness back with a well-produced slab of rock and roll groove. “Neverending Sunshine” is absolute spaced-out bliss while album closer “No Man’s Land” ends the album on big production and power pop dreaminess.
King Tuff has grown up a bit I suppose. Kyle Thomas has taken his musical moniker from rough and tumble poppy garage rock to something that more resembles big-eyed power pop. The Other is a huge step forward for Kyle Thomas and King Tuff. It’s an ambitious pop record that stands to be one of the best pop rock albums you’ll here this year.