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There are times in our life when we feel magic in the air. When new love arrives, or we find ourselves lost in a moment of creation with others who share our vision. A sense that: this is who I want to be. This is what I want to share. It’s a fleeting feeling and one that Kyle Thomas, the singer-songwriter who records and performs as King Tuff, found himself longing for in the spring of 2020.
But knowing he couldn’t simply recreate this time in his life at will, Thomas—who hails from Brattleboro, Vermont—set out to write a love letter to those cherished moments of inspiration and to the small town that formed him. The one where he first nurtured his songwriting impulses, bouncing ideas off other like-minded artists. The kind of place where the changing of the seasons always delivered a sense of perspective and fresh artistic inspiration. Where he felt a deeper connection with nature and sense of community that had once been so close at hand. And so, Thomas seized upon his memories, creating what he calls “an album about love and nature and youth.”
The result is Smalltown Stardust, a spiritual, tender and ultimately joyous record that might come as a shock to those with only a passing knowledge of the artist’s back catalog. On Smalltown Stardust, Thomas takes us on his journey to a place where past and present collide, where he can be a dreamer in love with all that he sees. References to his Brattleboro upbringing abound, but at the core of Smalltown Stardust is Thomas’s desire to commune with nature on a spiritual level. Images of the natural world, from blizzards to green mountains to cloudy days, fill the songs. “I consider nature to be my religion,” he explains, and Smalltown Stardust is nothing if not a spiritual exploration.
While so much of Smalltown Stardust invokes idealized traces and places of Thomas’s past, the album’s recording process made his communal vision a reality. Thomas’s Los Angeles home in 2020 formed a micro-scene of sorts, with housemates Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and Sasami Ashworth recording their own heralded albums (2021’s Fun House and 2022’s Squeeze, respectively) at the same time. A shared spirit dominated an era spent largely on the premises, with Thomas serving as engineer and contributor to both records, and Ashworth working as co-producer on Smalltown Stardust. Ashworth’s contributions are vital to the album: she co-wrote a majority of the record and contributed vocals, arrangements, and instrumentation to each song.
In the end, Smalltown Stardust is not merely a nostalgia trip. Thomas not only conjured a special time in his life, he found new inspiration, surrounded by collaborators and a sense of love and wonder for nature. If the first King Tuff record was content to merely state Thomas was no longer dead, Smalltown Stardust is a paean to what that life means. A statement of belief and a hymnal to the magic still to behold all around us.
Barry says: Smalltown Stardust is at it's heart an exploration of psychedelia but it's so joyously presented, effortlessly lurching from 60s psych to folky minimalism, via clashing garage rock. There are snippets of uplifting synths and pristine production but it never sounds less that thoroughly organic and wholly absorbing.
Love Letters To Plants
How I Love
Portrait Of God
Pebbles In A Stream
The Bandits Of Blue Sky
Always Find Me