It’s hard to tell whether King Tuff doesn’t care or if he’s just trying too hard. Since releasing his last self-titled record in 2012, Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff) has radicalized his persona and it shows on his latest release,Black Moon Spell. Tuff offers a blend of original style and influence in his latest work, sounding like an unlikely mixture of Frank Zappa, The Shins and Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins. Black Moon Spell possesses some impressive moments, transporting the listener back in time to other eras of rock. However, at its worst, the album is a giant cluster of low-fi, whiny, ironic self-indulgence that leaves the listener wondering if even Tuff himself likes the end product.

King Tuff

Black Moon Spell
Sub Pop

At its strongest points, Black Moon Spell delivers a refreshing garage rock vibe that defies the current trends in alternative rock. The title track delivers some crispy, distorted guitar licks that exemplify King Tuff at his musical best. “Black Moon Spell” doesn’t take itself too seriously, like any other Tuff jam, but the musical quality doesn’t suffer any collateral damage. The lyrics are fairly uninspiring, but it’s a pretty enjoyable mindless journey speckled with impressive retro guitar solos that leave no doubt about Thomas’s technical prowess. “Magic Mirror” and “Rainbow’s Run” also strike a successful balance between Tuff’s tireless drive for satire and his musical ability.

On other parts of the album, quality is subservient to Tuff’s supreme goal of not giving a shit. “Headbanger,” “I Love You Ugly,” “Madness” and “Demon from Hell,” sound like they belong in Tenacious D more than an authentic rock album. That’s not to say that Tenacious D is bad or that Tuff fails in his attempts at humor — there are some hilarious lyrical gems on “Demon from Hell” that I don’t even feel comfortable quoting in a polite publication — but the moments when musicianship is sacrificed for a laugh leaves the album feeling disjointed and severely boring at moments. “Headbanger” begins in promising fashion, but goes full Hindenberg before all is over with an ingenious chorus of “Bang your head,” repeated several times.

Even though King Tuff changes up the pace and style throughout Black Moon Spell, his whiny vocals are one-dimensional, and coupled with the low-fi garage rock sound, the entire record becomes a bit monotonous. It is a struggle to listen to the entire album.

Black Moon Spell is the kind of album that Pitchfork gets off to — I’m sure it will get rave reviews from hip young writers everywhere. That’s because the album is less about the music and more about King Tuff’s Persona, making it a perfect candidate for a Pitchfork rave review. Black Moon Spell is too “hip” for its own good. At some points, King Tuff seems desperate to establish himself as a musical outlier, unconscious of mainstream pressures — but I think the tracks suffer in his exasperating search for a character. It’s a shame, because you don’t need to listen too long to realize what an incredible musician Thomas is. However, unlike other goofy guitar gods from bygone eras like Zappa, Tuff is struggling to form a coherent musical identity that balances his own carefree personality and musical abilities in the right ratio. If King Tuff had concentrated more on his technical talent and less on posturing, his album would have lived up to his potential.

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