Virginia-born post-garage sensation King Tuff (Kyle Thomas) returns with his 5th album: Smalltown Stardust. For those familiar with his prior project, The Other (2018)—which relied heavily on huge synths and upbeat tempos—this album will come as a grounded, yet grand surprise.
Smalltown Stardust possesses that fleeting feeling of instant nostalgia throughout the entirety of its 38 minutes. Thomas mixes countless influences, from the likes of Paul McCartney and Johnny Cash to Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Andy Shauf, and Fleetwood Mac. These influences are everywhere, all smashed together, and yet seem to coexist in a constant ebb and flow that draws you in as you listen.
From its carefree introductory track, ‘Love Letter to Plants’, Smalltown Stardust has a strong sense of narrative throughout its course—a congruence in both theme and sound that guides us through a myriad of moods and aesthetics. The title track is particularly strong in this regard; cinematic, dramatic, climactic. Between its guttural guitars, optimistic vocal melody, orchestral synth swells, and an irresistible hip-hop style beat, “Smalltown Stardust” is the peak of the coming-of-age film (and the album itself), evoking urgency, growth, and points of no return.
Overall, Smalltown Stardust delivers lush arrangements, interesting, deliberate production, and an omnipresent sense of relaxation and ease in each track, particularly in “Portrait of God” and “Tell Me.” Laid-back and masterful, every song feels like it’s exactly as complex as it should be—nothing less, nothing more.
King Tuff lets us down gently at the end with the combination of the last two songs: “Always Find Me” and “The Wheel.” Individually, these are great, low-key songs that evoke images of rainy days and photo albums. Together as the end of the album, however, they excel as a fragile finale that still delivers a poignant emotional punch. Drawing the album to a close, we’re left noticing a little more of life’s natural magic, all around us.