King Tuff, ‘Was Dead’ [Reissue] – Album Review
Outside of Burger Records' small customer radius in North Orange County, Calif., it wouldn't be surprising for the non-cassette enthusiast to wonder what all the fuss is about. Though a few acts from Burger's early days have risen to unimagined heights (Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, Thee Oh Sees), the label has yet to produce a hit album, and reissues remain their highest-profile releases.
One of Burger's earliest releases was King Tuff's 2008 offering 'Was Dead.' Whether it was a success or a failure depends on who you talk to.
On one side of the coin, King Tuff (real name: Kyle Thomas) would go on to sign with Sub Pop and release a self-titled album in 2012 that earned him wider exposure and received generally positive reviews. On the other hand, 'Was Dead' sold so few copies that it is now considered a rarity among collectors.
This all leads to Burger's reissue of 'Was Dead,' an album that will likely be new to most listeners. But the people that did hear it five years ago are still enthusiastic and vocal. On the album's press sheet, Merrill Garbus, Devendra Banhart and Matt Johnson speak to the album's greatness and significance, though their quotes come with a much deserved wink. In three-minute blasts, King Tuff delivers rubbery rock 'n' roll that borrows from the blues-based beginnings of the '60s, the sexualized confidence of the '70s and the post-punk immediacy of the '80s. Plus, the guy has hooks to spare.
It's hard to fault an album for consistency, but the songs on 'Was Dead' struggle to make a case for themselves as being more than pleasant diversions or music to sound-track other activities. Opening pop gem 'Dancing On You' sees Thomas unabashedly belting out his lyrics in a surfy vibrato, and that could be a problem if the songs weren't so tuneful and forgiving.
'Sun Medallion' sees Tuff going acoustic with psych noodling, essentially sounding like a tamed Black Lips, while 'Just Strut' is a pouty 12-bar-blues standard that's barely in his singing range. Taking into account the time it was recorded, before our current garage boom, makes it seem a little fresher, but not enough to canonize 'Was Dead.' But, as a reissue, King Tuff has solid album that deserves to be heard. As the past tense in the title suggests, this was a new beginning for Thomas, and 'Was Dead will be a pleasant discovery for a lot of newer garage converts. And maybe most notably, 'Was Dead' is actually a rebirth, and the raw talent to make something is there.