Kyle Thomas was making music with a keyboard and drum kit before he was seven years old. After high school, Thomas played with various bands including folk revivalists Feathers, and J. Mascis’s stoner metal band Witch before creating the stage persona King Tuff. The name comes from a play on Thomas’s initials and King Tut. King Tuff, unlike Thomas himself, was a party animal, prone to drinking and reckless behavior. Influenced by this wild second self, King Tuff released his album, King Tuff in 2012, and Black Moon Spell in 2014. Both albums helped Thomas build his career as a touring musician but the demands of his alter ego began taking a toll on his happiness.
Enter The Other, a stripped down, thoughtful album inspired by the acoustic sets Thomas played while searching for the more innocent creative spark he had in the beginning of his career. Throughout The Other, King Tuff explores a wide range of musical styles and an even wider range of subject matter, from environmental destruction to creativity itself.
The album’s opening song is its title track, and the longest on the album, “The Other” patiently winds through space and time, giving Tuff and his listeners ample space to explore. In an interview with Drift Records, Tuff, describes “The Other” as the place where music, and all creativity, comes from. “It’s the hidden world. It’s the invisible hand that guides you whenever you make something. It’s the thing I had to rediscover to bring me back to making music again in a way that felt true and good.” Melodic guitar plays on a seemingly infinite loop, while Tuff contemplates the source of creative energy. While melancholic, “The Other” is an intimate journey that sets the stage for the rest of the album, and provides an introduction to the many surprises that follow.
The next song kicks up enough dust to bury the last one in its wake. On “Raindrop Blue”, Tuff shows he can create a shorter, catchy tune as well as any other garage rocker. In this swaggering love song, Tuff proclaims, “I’m electric, thinkin’ about you. Well I must’ve turned to lightning, when I fell in love with you.” The synthetic rock sounds of Beck come to mind listening to this track. One can imagine this song playing from the radio of a car cruising down a cosmic summertime highway.
Tuff slows down again to sing a simple elegy to a lost friend, in a style that combines country and rock, with sunny backup vocals provided by Jenny Lewis.
Many songs on this album fly highest during their intros, each one entirely different than the last. “Infinite Mile” begins with a guitar and harmonica combo akin to that of The Who. While “Birds of Paradise” starts with the jazzy, swelling notes of a brass section. Throughout the album, personal sentiment in songs like “Through The Cracks” mix nicely with the more electrified funk found in “Psycho Star”. “Circuits in the Sand” opens with bright, sunny guitar chords and a soulful organ. On this post-apocalyptic, sci-fi song, Tuff’s vocals sound most like Kurt Vile, as he laments the loss of humanity to technology; “We all thought we found paradise in the palm of our hand, but all they found in the future were circuits in the sand.”
“No Man’s Land” is at first a little rocky. It brings us back to the land of weird as an out-of-place harp sound plays behind bent, screechy guitar notes. Tuff sings about leaving home and embarking on a lonely journey into No Man’s Land. This could relate to his recent journey into a different type of music, abandoning the familiar mindless rock of past albums. The song is rife with description and trippy visions. Tuff sings, “I’m a Buddha in a blazing sinking sand. The purple skies electrify my eyes, here in no man’s land.”
Tuff does a great job emulating the styles of a wide range of other artists, but often fails to make his own unique dent in the universe that he finds himself floating through. Throughout the album, curious pairings of sounds and quirks shine through, offering fleeting glimpses of Thomas’s potential. There are movies like, “The Big Lebowski”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, and “Pulp Fiction“, that often need to be viewed two or three times before their genius can be appreciated. King Tuff’s fifth album may very well be one of these hidden gems, in need of a good dusting before it can sparkle in the light.
Perhaps with time, after exploring this new direction further, King Tuff could prove he has what it takes to find his way out of “No Man’s Land” and into the “Neverending Sunshine.”
-King Tuff on Drift Records:
-“Thru The Cracks”
Official Music Video for Psycho Star: