Black Moon Spell is a record about discovering yourself in the music you live. It's also a convincing and heartfelt next step for King Tuff, one as charmingly goofy as it self-assured and hard hitting.
No matter what Kyle Thomas does, his music seems foundational. The stoner rock of Witch was rooted in all manner of Sabbath-channeling tradition. The oddness of folk collective Feathers still had clear ties to a dusty musical past. In Happy Birthday, Thomas channeled his rock side into various and sweet power-pop tangents. As King Tuff, though, Thomas is the center that all these other projects spin around. He is all catchy riffs, sweet melodies, and crunching guitars.
Black Moon Spell, which follows King Tuff and Was Dead, is Thomas's latest and most direct ode to rock 'n' roll. Though the title, and the title track that opens the album, hints at rock's classic fascination with the occult ("as I drank my witches' brew"), we learn quickly that the black moon casting spells here is 12 inches in diameter, made of vinyl, and spinning on a turntable. "Black Moon Spell" starts the record with swampy hooks, guitars wobbling with psychedelic swirls, and a thumping rhythm section. The bluesy start immerses us in Thomas's mindset here, one lost in the feeling of music. But then "Sick Mind", another song that turns affliction into blessing, the guitars are all lean, sunburst hooks, and the song charges forward as Thomas sings in celebration of a girl born with a "filthy desire". There are plenty of girls, or more songs about the same sort of girl on Black Moon Spells, but Thomas isn't interested in objectification so much as he reveals the way music can tie people together, the way it can actually reveal deeper emotional ties. "Headbanger", with its demonic incantation at the opening, is both hilarious and heartfelt. "Me and you, we got a true connection," Thomas says. "I knew it when I saw your record collection."
"Headbanger" represents best the true emotional center of Black Moon Spell. In it, Thomas both goofily claims "my love went to 11", and manages to make the chorus request ("Bang your little head") sound guileless and even romantic. That wide-open declaration of love continues on the equally excellent "Beautiful Thing". Black Moon Spell, though, is not just about connecting with others, or using music to find love. It's also about self-discovery. On "Black Holes in Stereo", Thomas claims "I learned more working in the record store than I ever learned in high school." Another song, "Madness", may be about another lover, but it's also about being honest with yourself. It begins with dissonant bending notes, but by the time Thomas gets to his request ("I want you to see all the madness in me") he's not confessing, he's celebrating. He's admitting something he's learned about himself. On this record, rock 'n' roll is not a place to hide away from the world, but rather a place to discover the world you were meant to live in.
If the lyrics here, confessional and plain-spoken, didn't tell you of Thomas's love of rock 'n roll, the music here makes the point clear. Some of the more propulsive songs, "Beautiful Thing" and "Headbanger" especially, have a punk energy, but they also sound like they could be blasting out of a cherry red Camaro. You could drop "Eyes of the Muse" into the middle of the Dazed and Confused soundtrack and you might not notice the change. "Staircase of Diamonds" is a beautiful narcotic haze, the kind of atmosphere space rock you might not expect from King Tuff but that also fits perfectly. Black Moon Spell jumps from one rock tradition to the other as if Thomas is island-hopping through a hidden away archipelago, one where he's laid down roots.
The real success here is the way Thomas avoids cynical turns in favor of unabashed tribute to rock 'n roll. In succumbing to the tradition, even leaning heavily on it, Thomas finds another angle on his own clear voice. There are moments, especially "I Love You Ugly" and "Demon From Hell", that may not quite fit. The former sounds like an outtake from Thee Oh Sees, while the latter speeds by too quickly to take hold. But overall, Black Moon Spell is a convincing and heartfelt next step, one as charmingly goofy as it self-assured and hard hitting. It both refines and expands on the best parts of Was Dead and King Tuff, and paints a clear picture of what happens when an artist finds their way forward by sifting through the parts of the past they love.