Live in Portland June 3, 2018 | Star Theater
No one would mistake King Tuff for someone who really gives a fuck what musical cognoscenti think about the state of rock ‘n’ roll. He’s been making his own funkified version of garage psych rock for a minute now, and each release sees him leaning even more into his developing sympathies for the lyrically bizarre and the musically fierce. With The Other, he doubles down on his most notable elements–a proprietary blend of unpredictable guitar work and song structures–creating perhaps his most complete album to-date.
The lyrical content of The Other finds King Tuff (née Kyle Thomas) articulating his ascent from a self-proclaimed dark place from which he had to scrabble and claw his way back. When he kicked out the early single, “The Other,” Thomas described it as such: “It’s a song about hitting rock bottom. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do anymore, but I still had this urge—this feeling—like there was this possibility of something else I could be doing… and then I just followed that possibility.” He conveys this feeling of darkened ambiguity with a tender, synth-driven trip through the ether. Although it is decidedly down-tempo and incredibly personal, “The Other” is a perfect entry point into the rest of the album, both thematically and sonically.
The Other rides heavily on the synthesizer, with the guitar providing more of a melodic flavor, and it is this sort of surreal pump that pushes tracks like “Psycho Star” forward. With a funky bass line and catchy little hook, Thomas pokes around the nature of our place in the universe. “Thru the Cracks” drips with some southern songwriting elements, dancing around the angelic chorale backing the main vocals. It’s an oft-told tale: the misunderstood slipping through the cracks of a cookie-cutter existence, but Thomas makes it sound less like a dirge and more like smiling overture.
But, it’s not all serious. “Raindrop Blue” is an absolutely perfect ode to his raindrop blue Subaru Brat. It’s a funky, somehow heartwarming booty-shaker that calls back some of his earlier weirdness. The synth goes crazy, running up and down, and the bass just bumps itself into place.
The Other is polished and well thought-out. Thomas manages to walk the line between ripping out his heart and making you want more. It can be a risky endeavor for an artist to ‘go serious,’ but with the path already walked, and the music some of his best, King Tuff more than shows out.