King Tuff wrote the best T. Rex song you’ve heard in decades with “Black Moon Spell”, the title track off of their recent album, and for five minutes the listener is transported back to the early-70’s and the heyday of glam rock. It was one of the best singles of 2014, and while the rest of Black Moon Spell doesn’t quite reach the heights of its opener, the record still has its charms. Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff himself) shows a knack for writing fun and infectious melodies that are quick and to the point, and knocks out dozens of memorable fuzzed-out guitar lines that will rattle around in your mind long after the record has finished playing.
I first heard King Tuff when they opened for Wavves on their Afraid of Heights tour, and one can easily see how those two groups could find common ground, as they share an irreverent attitude and a commitment to stoned-out rock. King Tuff ingratiated themselves with the crowd that night with displays of both their humor and musicianship, and I made a note to keep an eye on them for the future. “Black Moon Spell” made the effort worthwhile, as I quickly fell into the spell of its captivating groove, with its memorably hypnotic riff that brilliantly plays around the contours of its chord progression. It may not be high art, but goddammit does it ever rock, and most of the album follows that template.
Most will point to the obvious inspirations of Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and the aforementioned T. Rex, but it is the unexpected influence of another generation that helps make Black Moon Spell sound fresh enough for modern audiences, that of mid-90’s indie rock. King Tuff filters the touchstones of glam-rock through the lens of the Elephant 6 sound, namely the psychedelic pop experimentation of The Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. The bright and sunny attitude that is prevalent throughout the album immediately recalls Robert Schneider and his group, while elements as diverse as the lo-fi “I Love You Ugly” and the quick sound collage from the mesmerizing ballad “Staircase of Diamonds” bring to mind memories of the latter band, with King Tuff’s vocals emphasizing the melodic sides of both bands.
King Tuff’s approach of glam-via-the-garage makes helps make Black Moon Spell an intriguing and often-exciting album, but it does drag a bit in spots, even with most songs racing by at around two minutes apiece. The album sags a bit toward the end, which is why this recommendation is being published months after its initial release; though many of the songs are not intended to leave much of a lasting impression, a lot of the songs after the mid-way point end up being rather disposable and probably should have been excised. However, even these tracks grow on you after multiple listens, so even this minor caveat should not discourage you from throwing on some face paint rocking some platform shoes with King Tuff, at least for forty minutes or so.