King Tuff - King Tuff (2012)
According to the press release for King Tuff’s new self-titled record, out now on Sub Pop, this album “should not be inspected or even listened to with critical ears.”
Hey, Sub Pop, guess what? If you don’t want to piss off the people whose job it is to promote your music, don’t tell them not to listen to it! Although I sympathize with the populist sentiments of this anti-critic mentality, it triggers a stinginess within me that is likely the result of my self-appointed amateur critic status. Now, granted, that press release statement was probably meant to be pretty tongue in cheek, but it still left me with a sour taste in my mouth heading into this record. Basically, if a band has the guts to tell critics to fuck off like that, they must either be really good or really self-absorbed. King Tuff, as it turns out, is both.
King Tuff is not a band, but an individual man. He likes it when people call him by his stage name, or just “The King.” I don’t know what his real name is, but I’m pretty sure he’s from Vermont. In 2008 he released a record called Was Dead (as in, King Tuff Was Dead), a lo-fi garage rock album with hazy, blown out production that was pretty unremarkable. Now, in 2012, comes King Tuff — another hazy garage rock record with similarly lo-fi production values and generally the same atmosphere throughout.
On paper, this record looks pretty boring, and I certainly wouldn’t fault anyone reading this for groaning at the prospect of yet another gritty garage rock record getting buzz for its “refreshing take” on rock and roll music. The saving grace here — and believe me, this record needs a big saving grace — is the songwriting material. Nearly all of the songs on King Tuff are excellent, individually great garage jams that cover all the important facets of that style of music. With all twelve tracks strung together, King Tuff sounds like a wild, stoned trip through sixty years of rock music, condensed into just over 40 minutes of material. With the long haired, ebullient King at the helm, this record makes for a very enjoyable listening experience, from the appropriately titled opener “Anthem” all the way to the bouncing power pop closer “Hit & Run.”
The music, though derivative, is genuinely adventurous. The record gleams with vibrant guitar riffs, shuffling drums, and salacious, evocative vocals that constantly challenge the limitations of the lo-fi production, giving King Tuff an unstable energy that excites. With its T-Rex aping riff and militaristic melody, “Anthem” sounds like a rallying battle cry, while the standout single “Bad Thing” finds the King reveling in his own self-affirmed badness. On the more toned-down side of things, the psychedelic earworm “Alone & Stoned” manages to make the idea of, uh, getting high by yourself sound appealing, while “Keep On Movin’” shines with starry-eyed iridescence and glimmering acoustic guitar. In case you were worried, there are also plenty of handclaps.
There’s very little room for serious lyrical themes on here, but you probably won’t notice that while you’re listening. Maybe this is where that press release statement actually starts to make sense; King Tuff isn’t a record meant to be listened to in the way that a teacher might read a student’s essay, constantly looking for faults and adhering to some kind of critical grading rubric. Instead, it’s a record that’s meant to be enjoyed like a summer beach book — at the listener’s own pace, and without any contextual preconceptions to muddy up the experience. Like most great garage records, King Tuff has a timeless quality about it, and although it can never completely transcend its temporal boundaries, I’ll be damned if it doesn’t come close.
King Tuff is out now on Sub Pop Records. Fans in the Connecticut area can catch King Tuff with his full band June 10th in New Haven. More information about that show can be found HERE, via Manic Productions.