Photo: Olivia Bee / Courtesy of Sub Pop Records

King Tuff’s Song Crafting Has Never Been Stronger Than on ‘The Other’

King Tuff's nihilistic tendencies overshadow the confusingly hopeful tone he was attempting on The Other.

The Other
King Tuff
Sub Pop
13 April 2018

The title of King Tuff’s latest album,
The Other, prepares us right off the bat for a psychedelic trip into deep thoughts, or at least the type of deep thoughts we expect to find in a Sudden Clarity Clarence meme. The idea of the Other as described by philosopher G.W.F Hegel means the mirror image of the self which is necessary to discover the true nature of the self. Whether Hegel was an influence on Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff), I’m not sure. But for Thomas, this idea is “where songs come from. It’s the hidden world. It’s the invisible hand that guides you whenever you make something. It’s the thing I had to rediscover to bring me back to making music again in a way that felt true and good.” To be sure, the musical output on The Other feels true and good. Nothing is forced about Thomas’s blend of folky Americana and electronic psychedelia. However, the album becomes a chore as Thomas’s nihilistic tendencies overshadow the confusingly hopeful tone he was attempting on The Other.

Before addressing the lyrical themes, however, it is worth noting that Thomas’s song crafting has never been stronger than on his most recent product. The brassy
“Raindrop Blue” is brimming with energy, trading psychedelic electronic sounds and saxophone riffs to create a memorable impression early in the album. “Thru The Cracks” combines the airy folk sensibilities of Morning Phase era Beck with an earnest vocal performance akin to Kurt Vile, as Thomas sings “Here one moment / Gone in a flash / Guess we all fall through the cracks.” Perhaps the strongest track on the album is “Psycho Star”, a funky, genre-defying song that kicks off with a Doctor Who-like synth effect before the soulful drum performance by Ty Segall shuffles in. Throughout the album, the production is tight, and the melodies are gripping.

However, for all the work of drawing the listener done by the music, the lyrics have an equally repellant effect. As Thomas searches for that “hidden world”, he claims on “Psycho Star”, “We don’t belong in this world / Be better off without us.” But he also gives us no idea of where we do belong as the track continues, “Madness and destruction / Maybe this is just who we are / The universe is mostly made of nothing.” He again adds, “Chaos and confusion / Maybe that is really all we are / The universe is probably an illusion.” Perhaps an argument can be made that Thomas is trying to convey that we need to take care of this planet because it’s all we have. But the nihilistic tone of the rest of the album makes it hard to argue that case.

“There’s no way out / No north, no south / Here in no man’s land,” Thomas sings on the closing track. “I’m checking out / And I’m riding my cloud / Back to where my whole being began.” I’m not sure where King Tuff’s trip into no man’s land will take him, but for the time being, he seems to be pretty unsure of what he’s trying to accomplish. However, when he figures that out, he’ll have plenty of musical chops and production savvy to take him there.

RATING 6 / 10