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"I'd come out and tapdance in an outfit and top hat, a cane, tap shoes."
--Jarboe
Jan.15 Cover - King Tuff
Written by John Sewell   
ImageRock ‘n’ Roll is King
King Tuff, That Is


My first encounter with King Tuff was when he/the band opened for Mike Watt at The EARL a couple of years ago. As soon as I walked into the club’s back room I knew something different was afoot: Over half the crowd was young and beautiful – not exactly the schlumpy middle-aged set you’d expect for a Watt show. King Tuff, who the stylish youngsters were there to see, was nearing the end of the set and the crowd was digging it. It was one of those eureka moments where you realize you’re seeing the hot new up-and-comers in their element. Sure, I’d read about King Tuff and was expecting some kind of hipster/neo-garage thing. But the band was delivering something more like energized classic rock with hooks galore.

Later I checked out the self-titled album on Sub Pop. Yeah, the music was kind of dreamy and introspective, folky even, punctuated by a handful of more riff-oriented songs. I understood why people liked it. It was better than OK, but not quite great.

None of this could have prepared me for the new album, Black Moon Spell, which is a total home run. The album, in contrast to its antecedent, is a total rocker. This is not to say that it is by any means “heavy.” Black Moon Spell rocks in the same way that Badfinger, Cheap Trick and Big Star rock. The songs are short, crunchy and melodic. Each of the 14 tracks achieves its purpose by laying down a solid groove, reeling in the listener with a catchy, memorable chorus, and finally adding that special something with a bridge that goes in a slightly different direction – only to reinforce the awesomeness of the chorus that booms back in at the end. In this way, each song is a mini-symphony that sounds deceptively simple. And the guitars are loud. This is perfection.

In the months since the release of Black Moon Spell, King Tuff has gotten surprisingly popular. Not that King Tuff shouldn’t be popular. But isn’t it amazing when the proverbial masses decide to like something that’s actually good? Then again, any upsurge in popularity = hype = an eventual dumbing down, right?  Well, maybe it’s not really that simple.

Of course, notoriety comes with a price. Auteur Kyle Thomas more-or-less is King Tuff. And the King Tuff image has been deftly manipulated by those master manipulators at Sub Pop – much in the same way that the label fostered reductive, easily-digestible imagery of earlier artists like Nirvana and, especially, Tad. King Tuff is being pushed as kind of a slacker/stoner/lo-fi genius type, a pop-savant noble savage or an eloquent Spicoli for the Urban Outfitters generation. Sure, it’s an appealing image. And to a degree, it’s working.

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