In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Long before he had released a couple albums on Sub Pop, long before he’d played festivals the world over, Pitchfork’s office in Chicago, or Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville, Kyle Thomas released Was Dead, the debut King Tuff album on Colonel Records, in 2008. By the time I came across its lo-fi, sexually charged, eminently catchy T. Rexisms (via a good friend who’d converted the vinyl LP to a CD for easier on-the-go listening), the record was out of print and fetching triple digits on eBay—something its done consistently over the past five years.
No wonder. Was Dead is all flirtatious come-ons (“Dancing On You,” “Connection,” “A Pretty Dress”), and cool-dude posturing (“Sun Medallion,” “Just Strut,” “Animal”), Thomas singing his throat off or playing the infectious card as it suits him—sometimes both simultaneously.
A highlight amongst highlights, “Freak When I’m Dead” is arguably Was Dead’s masterwork. “When you bury my body,” Thomas begins the song, “make sure I’m wearin’ all of my rings and my favorite clothes. Yeah, everything with patches, everything with holes.” He goes on to tell us he doesn’t care what his mama or grandma tells those still alive and attempting to dress him this way for his funeral, because he’s still gonna be, you guessed it, a freak when he’s dead. Bury him under a tree, for chrissakes. Meanwhile, we get some harmonica, some “pointed boots,” some rad-sounding talk about sinners and lost souls, and the kind of fuck-all lack of respect for mortality as you’d expect from a live-fast-die-young rock tune.
Deliciously irreverent and deliriously upbeat, Was Dead points to Thomas restless past in myriad bands and his talented future, one that culminated in last year’s slicker-but-no-less stimulating King Tuff. Fans of catchy, garage-inclined pop like The Nerves, The Exploding Hearts, Gentleman Jesse (he covered “Connection” on a Chunklet 7”), and Nick Lowe will find tons to love here. That is, if they don’t already own a bootleg.
In late 2009, I finally found my own copy of Was Dead. Buried in the used bin of a Boston record store, I happened upon an promo CD in a bright green cardboard sleeve, and never had I been so excited to stumble upon fantastic, life-affirming rock ’n’ roll. It was like finding a $20 bill in an old jacket, and Burger Records just made that process so much easier.