King Tuff

We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club. Fortunately, we end up liking some of them. In Playlisted, we share our latest recommendations.

Album: King Tuff by King Tuff (out May 29 on Sub Pop)

Press play if you like: Free Energy and re-creations of ’70s glam rock; off-kilter garage-pop outfits; slapdash, distortion-heavy indie rock.

Some background: King Tuff is Vermont native Kyle Thomas, better known as the frontman of Happy Birthday and vocalist for J. Mascis’ band Witch. His 2008 debut as King Tuff, Was Dead, revealed a natural preference for garage rock over the heavy-metal aspects of Witch, and in 2010 he moved in an even lighter direction with Happy Birthday’s lo-fi fuzz pop. For King Tuff’s self-titled follow-up, Thomas has returned to classic-rock territory. With a bluesy swagger and thick reverb gloss, Thomas pays loving homage to T. Rex and retro glam bands; despite the long hair, sunglasses, black denim, stud lettering, thrift-store accessories, sports jerseys, and spandex, he isn’t going for parody or novelty. King Tuff bops and boogies to simple, raw melodies, a throwback to a time when people actually danced to guitar-driven songs. Mixed in with the trashy riffs and power solos are a handful of measured ballads, though Thomas’ laggard execution is more laid-back than the high-drama rock anthems of yore. It’s a record that would play equally well in an arena or blasted out the back of a parked station wagon with a cheap six-pack.

Try this: King Tuff’s best songs bridge the minimalist pop of Happy Birthday and the layered construction of The Kinks’ hard-rock period. Starting with mellow piano and Thomas’ soft vocal whine, “Swamp Of Love” adds in guitar, harmony, and percussion to build into a lighters-up climax.