Posts Tagged ‘King Tuff’

RSTB Best of 2018

So, it seems that 2018 is finally coming to an end. It’s been a hell of a year by most standards, but musically its been damn entertaining. Perhaps its fair that there’s some bright spot in all the chaos. Not to diminish the chaos, but when the negativity is at an all-pervasive fever pitch, its feels good to have something to hold onto. I’ll choose to remember 2018 as a banner year for music and for the birth of my second daughter rather than the year that page refresh politics threatened to give me an ulcer any day. Below are my favorite albums of the year, taking care to highlight some that might otherwise get forgotten. They’re in (quasi) alphabetical order with no other particular weight on the list. Keep your eyes out for a few more year-end features this week before I reset for the new year. As always, thanks for sticking with RSTB for these 12-odd years or so.

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Anna St. Louis

Last year Anna St. Louis released a tape of striking, hushed songs on Woodsist’s small Mare imprint. They hinted at an accomplished songwriting talent and showcased St. Louis’ honeyed drawl, but the tape’s warm emersion in hiss and sunny afternoon vibes didn’t mark it as the kind of release that wrestled for constant attention. So, when her debut proper showed up in the inbox a few months back, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sucker punch to the gut it had in store. If Only There Was A River unfolds like a seasoned country-folk record, feeling classic and eternal like the kind of release that’s canon before it ever hits the shelves. It has an ache in its bones that’s raw and real, but St. Louis has wrapped the record in a lush warmth of an heirloom sweater pulled tight against the chill rolling across the plains. She’s teamed up with Kevin Morby and King Tuff’s Kyle Thomas to work the record into a bittersweet brilliance, gathering grey skies and painted sunset hues to color the spare, yet effective ambience around her tales of heartbreak and woe.

Most of the songs on If Only There Was A River have the kind of deep mournfulness and effortless age that seem like they might underscore a key scene in a Cohen brothers film. Her songs feel universal, timeless and torn in the way the catalogs of Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Wanda Jackson often do. She’s most like Van Zandt, though, in her use of simple country cool paired with a just enough orchestration that a song feels gilded, but not so much that it feels gaudy. Van Zandt often chafed in this context. The production hung on him a bit loose, like a borrowed suit, but St. Louis is able to work the same juxtaposition to her advantage. She’s the kind that can walk into any vintage store and not only find something that fits well, but make it her own, casting out the ghosts of previous owners on her way out the door.

The album lends itself to multiple listens, touching different heartstrings each time it winds its way around the turntable. St. Louis’ vocals move from whisper to wrench over the course of the record. She’s a master of producing the pang that grips the guts and chokes back tears for undeserving lost loves. While the touchstones of the past cling to the edges of the record, it doesn’t feel like its looking back. She’s earning a place among albums that transcend eras and in that regard she’s positioning herself to stand alongside fellow L.A. troubadour Jenny Lewis as the kind of songwriter who is comfortable in her heartbreak and carving out a sound that eventually belongs only to her. This release is a large step in that direction and a highlight among 2018’s already stellar showing for music. With the arrival of If Only There Was A River it feels like St. Louis has gained a longstanding place among the artists that scar our souls over time.



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Anna St. Louis – “Understand”

Well there seems to be a unanimous love for this today, but hell, “Understand” is a hard song to ignore. St. Louis’ debut tape for Mare / Woodsist was homespun, sounding like a backporch 8-track session that traded in the intimate and spare. Going in with that cassette in mind, the polish on this first peek at her new album, If Only There Was a River, is considerable. The production from Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby has wrangled her beautiful songcraft into the kind of lush country that often fell by the wayside commercially but accrued critical fans and massive cult followings. The label has name checked Townes here, and that’s not far off, but this one’s got more of a Guy Clark vibe (think “She Ain’t Going Nowhere”) mixed with the pristine pop of Nico’s less bracing days.

St. Louis’ vocals ring rich and true, imbuing the song with the kind of classic charm that endears vocalists like Françoise Hardy, Bridget St. John or the aforementioned Nico to a certain swath of filmmakers. The accompanying video is a slow crawl through gorgeous terrain and works as a nice backdrop to the stunner that Anna lays on us all with this song. Gotta hope the rest of the album lives up to this, but with that crew attached and her songwriting skills, it might be safe to rest easy in that department. The LP is out in October, again on Mare / Woodist.



Support the artist. Buy it HERE.

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King Tuff

Everything on The Other sounds like Kyle Thomas wanted to break off from the King Tuff moniker and leave it behind – to fold up his old sun medallion and let it rest in the drawer for a spell. It has, in fact happened before, with Sub Pop signing King Tuff only to have him immediately flip the coin and work out the kinks as Happy Birthday. Still, after roaring back into the cracked leather of Tuff’s driver’s seat for another 8 years ‘round the bend following that diversion, there’s an understandable desire at this point to slip away into the shade. As much as Thomas’ 10-foot cartoon chassis is a beloved institution of power pop, it’s got to be exhausting to carry that towering persona around. In that light, this feels to my ear more like a Kyle Thomas solo record that someone in A&R begged him to keep under the Tuff moniker for categorical ease. Not that it tarnishes the Tuff brand, if it’s a Tuff record it’s actually one of my favorites, but I almost wish they would have let him rip the decal off and don the new hat.

The record still has an engine of power pop, though it’s pushed way beyond garage’s bubblegum snap and slid back the hi-fi party mask that found its way into King Tuff’s lyrics over the years. This is a world-weary record that’s pushing Thomas’s pop into lush production, still fairly larger than life, but now trying to duck that personality out of sight and ponder the preposterousness of life on this hunk of chipped granite. Thomas, largely alone, wrangles country’s grand vistas, glam crunch, glittering keys and jittery funk into the shape of one of 2018’s most delightful surprises.

The record follows a grand tradition of bands breaking stride and finding their bittersweet soul wrapped in high concept. This is KT’s Parachute, his Odyssey & Oracle, his Arthur. Like those albums it’s both over the top and a masterpiece of pomp, pathos and pop. The record has huge ambitions, sure, but I’ll be damned if Thomas doesn’t hit his marks every time. Are there lyrics that will date this to an exact moment in time, absolutely (“Circuits In The Sand”), but how is that any different from “Shangri-La’s” exploration of ‘60s idyllic suburb life? Does the record throttle his stylistic core? Yeah and that’s the point. That’s what makes it work and maybe, as much as this feels like a different animal dressed in a familiar sweater, maybe that’s what actually makes the case for keeping King Tuff on the hood ornament.

In the same way that those ambitious albums by the ’60s set pushed listeners out of rote garage territory and acted as portals to new sounds, this affords the past and future King Tuff fan a doorway through the shiny pop sneer and into a treasure of styles. There are hooks that will soar this into the infinite and a hugeness that tends to make pop albums treasures for generations of diggers to come. Even if the world doesn’t turn and take notice, this feels like a record with a long tail of influence down the road. If this is the beginning of a new chapter, or a complete new book, The Other stands to become a definitive moment for King Tuff.


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King Tuff – “The Other”

It’s been four years since Kyle Thomas has released music as King Tuff and believe me, that gap has been felt. It’s great to have him back, though its unclear if “The Other” is a one off endeavor or the tip of a new album’s iceberg. From the heavily suggested note to follow up King Tuff socials, I’d wager the latter, but new music is welcome news either way. His last outing, Black Moon Spell, polished up his sound into 20 foot whirlwind of power pop and garage that still retained his gonzo sensibility. It was cleaner, but still undeniably Tuff. So, it’s with a bit of surprise that the latest track from Thomas strips all of the bombast away. He’s gone down alleyways of tenderness before (“Staircase of Diamonds”, “Evergreen”) but those songs have always retained the Mad Hatter twinkle that rested in Thomas’ eye.

On “The Other” he’s gone to the well of earnestness without a wobble of weird in sight. It’s a good look on him, and far be it from me to begrudge an artist a sea change when their old influences feel out of sorts. Thomas’s voice is hovering far above the mix, with just some plucks and a sunset swell of organ pushing him through. It feels like Tuff if he’d been binging the works of James Jackson Toth lately. Whether this song captures the tone of new works or if its just a muse that he needed for follow remains to be seen. While its a surprising tonal shift, this heart-on-sleeve approach fits Kyle well. I wouldn’t be opposed to some more tender Tuff if it came my way.





Support the artist. Buy King Tuff HERE.

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Ty Segall

So Segall ropes in a huge crew of ringers on his latest collection, Kyle Thomas (King Tuff), Mikal Cronin, Emmett Kelley (The Cairo Gang), Charles Moothart (Meatbodies), Cory Hanson & Evan Burrows of Wand and Melvins Drummer Dale Crover, each one a holding a record nerd’s pedigree in their own right; and together they make exactly the kind of case study in explosive, yet powerful rock that you might think that they’d unearth. What’s maybe missing, is perhaps any of that polish that found its way to the forefront of Ty’s last record. Here he’s going for a barbed wire aura that puts listeners on their haunches from the get go, grinding through the dirt rather than working to nod heads and let the teens bop. The cast of characters on display are torn from some similar territory from past releases, all matter of loners and speckled creepers, but now it seems that the disconnection they inspire is intentional and perhaps crucial, as the core of his “emotional mugging” stems from the electronic barriers of social feeds and the constant filter of glowing screens.

The first half of the record cuts the flesh and licks a few wounds, barreling through Television, Beefheart and Voidoids machinations if they were blown through the filter of Chrome and throttled a few turns in the vice of MX-80. The second half opens up its scope, though its still got an evil hangover of guitar gnash that keeps it at arm’s length from the glittered pop of Manipulator. This is one for the true grit, those who’ve come as much for the hooks as for the blown cone ethos. In a way, this whole album reminds me of one of Segall’s greatest tracks, “My Sunshine,” a shot over two minutes of melted wire fury with a caramel center of melody that makes it uncomfortable in its own skin while still making you smile every time. Who knows if this mask will stay on long, but for now this is an enjoyable bit of squirm from one of the modern masters of string wrangled fury.

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