New York indie rock outfit Tuff Sunshine do a lot with very little. The band’s stripped down indie rock aesthetic plies its strength from the simplicity of their drums/guitar/bass setup which hasn’t really been improved upon in the last 40 years. There’s always room for experimentation of course, but if you’ve got that core dynamic where it needs to be, everything else just seems to fall into place. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve got revered no-wave producer Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Brian Eno) handling the recording and mastering duties. But Tuff Sunshine aren’t merely riding the coattails of the recent trend of bands fixating on an early 90s classic indie rock sound – though you can hear much of that time period in the tracks that form their recent Kids Know EP. Bringing together aspects of indie rock and post punk with the occasional funk rhythm flourish, the band skillfully mines these flooded genres, creating a distinctively thrumming rock landscape with only a bare minimum of pieces.
“All Hail The One That Got Away” kicks off the album with a burst of adrenalized Girls Against Boys alt-rock fury – with searing guitar riffs lancing out at right angles, grating up against a throbbing bassline and unrelenting percussion. The song brings to mind memories of Buzz Bin compilations and alternative radio superiority. And if the edges feel a bit smooth, the band can be forgiven a bit because of the persistent post rock barrage that comes squalling out from the speakers. But even in a landscape so filled with familiar sights and sounds as this, the band doesn’t linger long on any one idea. They shift into a more casually melodic groove on “Honeymoon,” a chugging rocker held up by a hummable melody that never shortchanges the importance of the band’s own interwoven dynamics (or the cowbell, for that matter). That being said, they falter a bit on the overcooked rocker “Mining The Moat,” a track that tries a bit too hard and feels a bit too flat. There’s no lack of effort but the execution feels much less refined than either of the previous tracks, and the overly glossy production does them no favors either.
Thankfully, it’s a brief misstep which is soon rectified by “Kids Know.” Borrowing liberally from the surf rock and post punk handbooks, the band distills layers of blurred distortion and pop melodicism into a churning, sub-three minute call to arms. But this isn’t simply a paint by numbers indie rock template, Tuff Sunshine understand well enough that rock music hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years, and there’s probably not much that’s going to change about it in the next 40 years. But what they do have is a charging rock song that never sacrifices creativity for accessibility. “Open Mic” closes out the album in roiling waves of submerged noise and elastic bass rhythms — not to mention the wiry fretwork that feels like it belongs on a Pixies b-side, buried deep in some record collector’s private stash.
While there is a creative dip in the middle of the EP, overall the band has done a wonderful job of not only adhering to the classic indie rock sounds that have felt so prevalent lately but also by expanding them beyond their roots. Often, so much care is given to imitating these familiar sounds without understanding the reasons why they resonate so clearly with people — which they have done for decades — but on Kids Know, Tuff Sunshine find a good balance of respect and creative momentum so that the songs, barring “Mining The Moat,” never feel slogged down in influence or nostalgia. You can get a feel for how the band themselves feel about this music. There is a love, and in truth, a reverence for how these sounds have led them in their own development as musicians. And while that love has led to a satisfying collection of indie rock revisions, I’d be surprised if the band doesn’t continue to follow their influences into deeper and darker places. But wherever they go, there’s no doubt that they’ll have plenty of company.