Kyle Thomas releases his sixth solo album under his King Tuff moniker, looking to turn back the clock on his exploits to date, for a deep dip into halcyon days.
In a departure from his usual, fuzzed-out, psychedelic rock, Smalltown Stardust finds Thomas seeking peace and tranquillity, communing with his surroundings, and drawing inspiration from the people and the places that brought him to the here and now.
The album, as you would expect from a man on a serious nostalgia trip, is one that gently ebbs and flows with musical touch points. How I Love relates his backstory in the style of a wistful Mac DeMarco – “So lost in nothing but noise for so many years / I forgot to love” – laying out his reason for leaning back off the distortion pedal. On this, as with a large chunk of the album, Thomas is in tandem musically and vocally with L.A. housemate Sasami Ashworth, whose songwriting DNA is all over these tracks. It’s an inspired choice that helps to provide a sweet country refrain to his usual rock tendencies.
In places, things become too twee and sugar coated. Portrait Of God sounds like the result you’d get if Marc Bolan wrote a song about Bob Ross painting his garage and closing track The Wheel veers a bit too close to the rubbish Nicks/Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac for most people’s patience.
Saying that, when the blend between Thomas and Ashworth (Thomashworth?) hits the spot, the stardust alluded to in the title genuinely comes into plain view. Pebbles In A Stream teams up ripples of burbling piano with sunny acoustic guitar and slabs of cello so cosy it makes you feel like you’re being stroked into a slumber by a blissed-out grizzly. It’s stripped back, beguiling and bloody lovely.
Elsewhere, we get perfectly formed country-pop with Tell Me – a languid duet that melts the heart – while the upbeat Rock River speaks to King Tuff’s considerable guitar prowess, working itself up into the kind of noise that Field Music would be proud of. Indeed, the title track itself harks back to that scuzzier sound more synonymous with his previous incarnations but aims for something closer to the album’s core values than too much Ty Segall.
Smalltown Stardust may have a wobbly top and a bit of a soggy bottom, but inbetween it has a delicious meaty heart that deserves to be picked through and savoured in lazy helpings – preferably whilst couched in your back green surrounded with the freshest of herbs. Quite tasty.