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King Tuff - King Tuff

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Artist: King Tuff

Album: King Tuff

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Aug. 9, 2012

I’m willing to wager that King Tuff loves T. Rex. I’m sure if you cornered the eponymous, enigmatic frontman/songwriter (née Kyle Thomas), he’d tell you he likes all sorts of weird obscurities, lost classics, and distinguished members of the glam and power pop canon. And a cursory listen to King Tuff’s self-titled sophomore album would bear this out. But still, and I’ll expand on this later, King Tuff probably loves T. Rex.

There’s nothing expressly monochromatic in a genre sense about King Tuff. In fact, Thomas has a near prodigy-like ability to generate indelible hooks that pull from a relatively deep well of inspiration. He can create anthemic platform-booted stompers and ooey-gooey bubblegum sing-alongs; wistful, breezy pop melodies or cheeky rock ‘n’ roll burners. There’s even a shuffling, twangy roots number on here for good measure. And Thomas’s nasally, helium vocals — which he uses to grand effect, adding icing to an already sweet cake of a song like “Stupid Superstar” — have as much in common with snotty punk as anything else.

Nonetheless, Marc Bolan, and the twinkling, larger-than-life image he created for T. Rex, seems to be always lurking in the corners and shadows of this record. You can hear it in places like the choruses of “Alone and Stoned” and “Keep on Moving,” with their warm, humming multi-tracked vocals; the cosmic strum that opens the ballad “Swamp of Love”; and the slithery, driving rock of “Stranger.” Of course, any number of mid-’70s glam rock icons could in theory have been an inspiration for these songs. Thomas’s evocation of Bolan isn’t as cut and dry or uninspired as mere imitation. For one thing, while King Tuff aren’t explicitly anti-sequins or anything, as a multimember unit they can strike a pretty scruffy pose, residue perhaps from many a cold New England winter.

There’s a nice bit of self-mythologizing here, too; a homemade swagger that recalls T. Rex at its most commanding. Let’s not forget that both Bolan and Thomas reinvented themselves: Bolan from a poetry spouting Donovan-esque flower child into the rock god that would serve him well until the time of his unfortunate death; and Thomas from a back-to-the-land hippy in psych-folk collective Feathers to the lo-budget glitter paragon he is here. And while it’s doubtful that Thomas will have a Saturday morning kids show any time soon or achieve even a modicum of the commercial success of his predecessor, this inscrutable bro’ from Vermont adopted a guise, slapped a gold grill on his teeth, tilted his brim, and wrote some excellent neo-glam tunes. In doing so he’s created a version of a T.Rex–sized rock star appropriate for an era that’s too down on its luck to really have one.

By Nate Knaebel

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