Laid-back garage popster King Tuff delivers a long-awaited follow-up to Was Dead with his self-titled Sub Pop debut. He was no slouch during the four years since that first official full-length, touring with soda shoppe punkers Hunx & his Punx (who share his snotty, nasal vocal stylings) and J. Mascis' stoner shredders Witch, as well as putting out a record with his own lo-fi indie pop band Happy Birthday and moving from his native Brattleboro, Vermont to Los Angeles. That change of scenery definitely made an impression on Tuff; his sophomore album is imbued with a sunnier sheen -- also thanks to producer Bobby Harlow (the Go, Conspiracy of Owls) -- and even more earworm hooks. King Tuff also stands out from Was Dead in its range, giving the feel of '50s rock & roll, '60s pop, and '70s glam. The aptly titled opener "Anthem" sets the stage, sonically and lyrically hitting closest to his earlier work with its low-budget guitar buzz and good vibin' lyrics, easing the transition into his refreshed sound. Tuff dances and chases girlies to the tune of midtempo boogie ("Keep On Movin'), channels his power pop side with a perfectly frenetic solo and shout-along chorus ("Bad Thing"), and struts into the night with the spirit of T. Rex ("Stranger"), but best of all, he also takes the time to put the swagger on the shelf to reveal a gentler, more vulnerable side. The cooing "Unusual World" approaches pastoral indie pop with its breezy guitar and xylophone flourishes as he sings about combatting outcast feelings by immersing himself in the title locale, while the nostalgic, piano-led ballad "Swamp of Love" serves as Tuff's take on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"-esque grandeur. Where Was Dead was an album for summer driving and hanging out, the intervening years, extra rays of sunshine, and willingness to take a risk on expanding his sound make King Tuff a fully realized summer record from the street to the beach to the campfire.
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AllMusic Review by Chrysta Cherrie