—article by Tanisha Wallis
When Kyle Thomas granted himself the name KING TUFF as a teenager (a mixture of his initials and King Tut), he unwittingly created a musical persona that is all his own. KING TUFF’s latest effort, Black Moon Spell, released Sept. 23 under Sub Pop records, seeps garage rock griminess mixed with the theatrics of glam rock, creating an upbeat, addictive album that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Guitar–heavy, with solid drumming that’s just sloppy enough to uphold the band’s garage rock status, Black Moon Spell echoes KING TUFF’s past obsession with women, music and the classic rock ‘n roll lifestyle, where sex, drugs and music rule, and being bad is always in style. In “Beautiful Thing,” Thomas sings about a girl who’s “breaking windows with a baseball bat” and “turning all the good boys bad.” But this lifestyle is clearly sexy to Thomas, who wants her to become his “beautiful thing.” The lyrics may reference “bad girl” behavior, but it’s a fun song to dance around to, as long as you ignore the fact that he’s calling a person a “thing.” He also idolizes a woman for her record collection in “Headbanger,” in which he sings that he knew he and said woman had a “true connection” when he saw her record collection. “You had Sabbath and Priest and Number of the Beast; it was heavy metal perfection,” he sings. “Then you went south of heaven, and my love went to eleven.” The fast tempos can point to his positive attitude concerning that lifestyle—in other words, the more bad, the better.
Later, in “Black Holes in Stereo,” a highly energetic tune that glorifies rock by playing into the sci–fi aspect of glam, compares the music genre to a black hole: “Heavenly angels sing along, and the devil’s got your soul,” Thomas sings. To him, rock is the holy grail, and once you give in and get sucked in and fall down that rabbit hole, you’ll understand, too. He makes his point clear in the middle of the song, crooning “girls and boys come from outer space, and so does music, too / I learned more working at the record store than I ever did in high school.” As if he could get any more preachy, he then sings, “within the magic circle is all you need to know–There's a black hole on your stereo, all you gotta do is...GO!”
Black Moon Spell has a decidedly heavier sound than KING TUFF’s previous albums, Was Dead (2008) and King Tuff (2012). Songs such as "Radiation" and "Magic Mirror" may not be as easy to listen to for their weighty nature, as if they’re pulling listeners into the depths of garage rock. Most of the songs have strong hooks, though—the lo-fi, yet lively guitar solo in “Beautiful Thing” that continues throughout the song accompanied by upbeat drumming will have listeners bobbing their heads from the beginning of the song. "Eyes of the Muse” starts with a bright guitar solo, which morphs into a slightly grittier tune that still maintains the energy in the beginning.
True to K’s persona, the album laughs at itself at times, as evidenced in its over–the–top details. The way Thomas sings—most notably in "Black Holes in Stereo" and “Eddie’s Song”—has a higher pitch than expected, almost creating a childlike tone. A raspy, near–demonic voice at the beginning of “Headbanger” plays into those deep, yelling voices that have become a heavy metal cliché. Other obvious stereotypes are pointed out, such as the details “running free in ecstasy in chains and leather jackets” and “making out, you make me shout in the back of the cemetery." In the short-and-fast “Demon from Hell,” Thomas croons about how Apollo (the Greek god of music) put music in his veins, and now he’s playing guitar “like a demon from hell” and “screaming of sinning” and “doing it well.” References to the devil and demons are repeated throughout the album, as though Thomas is affirming the old–fashioned belief that rock is “the devil’s music,” but that’s not a bad thing. For Thomas, what’s traditionally bad is clearly good.