“Breezy,” typically, isn’t a term often associated with garage rock. Raw, raucous, sloppy, noisy — these are the kinds of words thrown around when discussing fuzzbox fetishists and lo-fi all stars. Garage rock is about energy and getting down to rock `n’ roll’s basest instincts, simplest constructs and shittiest recording quality, generally speaking that is. Yet there’s no rule that says you can’t accomplish all these things while maintaining a laid-back swagger, a carefree sensibility and a reluctance to wrinkle one’s threads. For Vermont’s King Tuff, being a badass garage rocker means playing loud and lively, but always while keeping his cool.
King Tuff, aka Kyle Thomas, has built up some laudatory underground cred in the last decade through a variety of projects and connections. Thomas fronts Witch, the stoner rock outfit that also features J Mascis; played with psychedelic folk collective Feathers; and most recently released an album of snotty lo-fi punk on Sub Pop with Happy Birthday. As King Tuff, however, Thomas finds a chill, easy-going vibe rife with badass T. Rex vibes and jangly ’70s psych trips, rocking as hard as he can without getting his hair mussed.
On his self-titled Sub Pop debut, King Tuff is something like an underground garage version of the Fonz, lining up a dozen songs about long-legged girls, dancing and having a good time. It’s perfectly logical that Thomas should feel comfortable sticking mostly to these themes — the album itself is pretty much a backdrop for dancing, meeting long-legged girls and having a good time, and a fantastic one at that. The Marc Bolan-style riff rockin’ on “Stranger” is a guaranteed party starter, all attitude and smiles, while leadoff track “Anthem” is a beer-hoisting foot stomper no BBQ should be without this summer. There’s a blend of AC/DC and Jay Reatard in “Bad Thing,” a wondrous standout overloaded with hooks. And on “Swamp of Love,” Thomas opts for bigger, slightly more indulgent sounds, layering on piano, acoustic guitar and well-placed shakes of tambourine for a swelling, open-hearted Beatles-style anthem.
For the amount of variety, energy and inspiration that King Tuff shows off on his latest effort, he almost never sounds like he’s breaking a sweat. He’s the personification of cool, and this album is summertime fun captured in three-minute pop songs. I don’t know how he did it, but it’s a mighty fine job he’s done.
Video: King Tuff – “Bad Thing”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.