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Monday, March 2, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 19.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Daily
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Vinyl Cave: Was Dead by King Tuff
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King Tuff may occasionally exist in a full-band version for tours. But originally the project was just Kyle Thomas recording solo in his parents' Vermont basement, when not playing with bands such as Feathers or Witch. From those subterranean beginnings an underground legend grew from a box or so worth of Thomas-created CD-Rs. The journey of the once again-reissued Was Dead album's availability in various formats over the years is an epic tale in itself, best recounted in depth in a recent Spin article.

The digest version: Thomas initially demoed many of these songs at home, eventually re-recorded them for the CD-R of Was Dead and went on a quick tour to limited audience response. After a couple years of those CD-Rs seeping into the groundwater of the garage scene, indie label The Colonel Records contacted Thomas about reissuing his CD-R on vinyl. The LP was pressed a few times but was surprisingly hard to get even at the time; a friend told me to check it out back then, but I couldn't ever locate a copy that wasn't already trading for collectible-level sums.

Next, then-start-up cassette reissue label Burger Records got in the game; they have kept Was Dead in print on tape ever since, selling more than 4,000 in the process according to Spin. Burger is also responsible for the new vinyl reissue, finally making the album easily available on LP for the first time in several years. A CD reissue is also forthcoming, for those so inclined.

What's all the hoopla about, though? Isn't Was Dead just another one of many fun garage pop albums, the underground summer fling of 2009, and now 2013? Well, yes, but there's a good reason this album has continued to build an audience and be reissued repeatedly. It's that rare hard-to-hear album that when one finally does hear it, there's no let down.

As a (mostly) one-man recording project -- and, as this was another pass at recording many of these songs -- Thomas had to make sure his arrangements were down tight, giving Was Dead much more polish than many garage pop albums. The songs are catchy and hooky enough they work without the energy imparted by the wildness or noise freakouts that bring much contemporary retro-leaning rock to life. My personal favorites are the heat-hazed psychedelia of "Sun Medallion," the statement of purpose "Freak When I'm Dead" and the Pink Floyd-meets-Velvet Underground "Stone Fox." However, Was Dead isn't really an album you'll want to skip around on.

Hopefully this turns out to be a successful trial run that will give Burger incentive to keep on adding vinyl versions of more of the label's previously cassette-only reissues. (Burger Records, BRGR 016, 2013)

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