Affable, semi-apocalyptic stomper with gypsy spirit and a goofy heart. I know little about TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb (except that they do happen to be from Philadelphia, yo), but I can hear in this ramshackle, fragmented narrative the unmistakable sound of a potent live band. And, even better, a potent live band that knows how to record well. These two things don’t always coincide. We’ve all been there, right? At a show with an unknown band that happened to be so good you bought the album on the spot only when you listened at home you’re like, okay, this is actually not very good at all? I don’t think that happens with these guys.
Because, first of all, the arrangement is splendid; the band keeps a careful eye on its sonic space, and often lets less do more, allowing individual instruments to make their mark. This doesn’t sound like a bar band just cutting loose for the sake of rocking out. (Never mind that the bass player plays an upright, which is many wonderful things but not a rock-out instrument. Never mind too that the percussion has the delightful air of pots and pans about it.) Second, “Eye Witness on the Run” offers up the delightful combination of melodic momentum and lyrical intrigue. In other words, this is a well-crafted song, however off-the-cuff the band’s vibe. Lastly, front man Dan Bruskewicz has both charisma and chops. Gifted with the rasp of a young Tom Waits, or a middle-aged Steve Earle, he doesn’t bog down in it, navigating the agile, syncopated melody with aplomb, not to mention the lyrics’ parade of evocative phrases (“entrails of steam,” “blue-flame eyes,” “the whispers of glass where the stones had been thrown”). The song is long because it leaves time for the four players to play, but the instrumental section, introduced by the upright bass solo at 3:07, is a gratifying journey itself, not just a meaningless jam. (And I mean jam in the actual sense of the word. Don’t get me started on its dispiriting use as a synonym for “song.”)
TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb has just released its second full-length album, Manufacturing Joy, and that’s where you’ll find this one. You can check the whole thing out, and purchase it, via Bandcamp. The band’s previous album, Idiots, was released in 2010.
photo credit: Alexandra Marvar