As a musician, King Tuff falls somewhere between having a distinct point of view and being a full on parody of flaky ’70s glam rockers. The King, as he likes to refer to himself, is a persona of Kyle Thomas, lead vocalist of the J Mascis side project Witch and freak folkers Feathers. In this incarnation, Thomas eschews both harder sounds of the former and the laid-back grooves of the latter to board a time machine for the era when it was still acceptable to dance to rock music. On Was Dead, King Tuff confidently returns to the land of the living with 13 lucky numbers that nicely evoke the era of feel-good, danceable rock ‘n’ roll.
There is an unmistakable anachronistic quality to Was Dead. Whether due to careful production or budgetary restrictions, the songs have a certain rawness indicative of a bygone era. The guitars sound thin and slightly tinny, mixing with a wheezy organ and overly present high-hat somehow mix to give a reasonable approximation of ’70s glam. The effect is heightened by Thomas’ nasal vocal delivery. The voice he uses in “Tuff” persona is opposed to the studio-enhanced perfection encountered on many releases that it marks the songs as coming from an era where some measure of idiosyncrasy was encouraged in popular music.
The songs on Was Dead are a mixed bag of male posturing, come-ons and mysticism whose lyrics are all ultimately throwaways. Their position on the album is subservient to the grooves, which are present in abundance. Like his predecessors in glam, Thomas is concerned with finding a universally infectious groove. On Was Dead, Thomas, or perhaps more correctly King Tuff, makes an admirable attempt in this direction.