Vermont-reared musician and songwriter Kyle Thomas is a tall, lanky "dude," who you could easily picture hanging out with a group of skateboarders with his T-shirt, frayed jeans and soiled Converse sneakers, his foppish, uncombed hair tucked underneath a beat-up trucker cap. Thomas is an eccentrically ambitious songwriter who plays in several bands, including J. Mascis' stoner-metal band Witch and Happy Birthday, a Vermont-based lo-fi pop band that includes Ruth Garbus (sister to Merrill of tUnE-yArDs). However, both those bands hate touring. So Thomas returned to an older solo project, King Tuff. Was Dead, a terrific power pop-garage debut, appeared in 2008 on the small NY-based Colonel label.
Having recently moved to L.A. with a mass of demos, Thomas soon assembled a band and began working with Detroit musician and producer Bobby Harlow (vocalist for the '90s band The Go) laying down tracks for his King Tuff Sub Pop debut. It would be safe to say that not many would have expected the result to be such an explosion -- of energy, pop hooks and eclectic melodies, filtered through tight song structures.
Thomas' eagerness to explore a wide palette of pop-based styles is apparent from the get-go. The Cheap Trick-like coliseum power pop riff that rips in the opening track, "Anthem," layered with guitars, creates a huge sound while maintaining garage-rooted rough edges -- much like '90s L.A. brethren Redd Kross. "Keep on Movin'" is a wonderfully skewed slice of '60s bubblegum pop with equally goofy lyrics. "You do the Frankenstein, I know that you will be mine," sings Thomas, whose nasal delivery is aligned with contemporaries such as Tim Presley from White Fence, Girls' Christopher Owens and Bosco Delrey. "Got to keep on, keep on movin'. Don't stop, there's nothing to it," concludes Thomas in the chorus. He seems to maintain that as his musical output credo.
There are also psychedelic influences, such as the ringing guitars in "Stupid Superstar" and "Evergreen," which also ties Thomas to Detroit psych-garage bands like The Waxwings and most notably Outrageous Cherry. The record's closing song, "Hit & Run," is the biggest oddball surprise. It's as if someone dared Thomas to come up with a song combining Dexys Midnight Runners' '80s hit "Come on Eileen" with the opening guitar riff of The Clash version of Eddy Grant's "Police on My Back." And it works.
It should be noted that Thomas and producer Harlow also have nicely arranged the songs, mixing the pace and styles, where one song flows smoothly into the next, playing like an "old school" album. Thomas makes it easy; you just press play and let it go: King Tuff provides a perfect soundtrack for this summer's music bag.