Affable, semi-apocalyptic stomper with gypsy spirit and a goofy heart.
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
Listen to how the very rumble and swing of the music here echoes the sound Lanegan himself makes.
“I always consider myself to be a pretty good breakfast cook that ended up as a singer,” Mark Lanegan told an interviewer in 2008. That would be a breakfast cook with a distinctively rich and grumbly baritone, in any case. And while the years have taken him on an unexpected musical journey—I mean, no one saw those three albums with Scottish singer/cellist Isobel Campbell coming—everything eventually reduces to that voice. While most facile efforts at pigeonholing Lanegan link him forever with the birth of grunge rock (his band, Screaming Trees, were one of Seattle’s best back in the day), there’s nothing particularly “grunge”-y about Lanegan, who did not fully explore the depth of his vocal tone until the Trees were history. His range and idiosyncrasy align him more with Tom Waits than Kurt Cobain.
Take “Gravedigger’s Song,” and listen to how the very rumble and swing of the music echoes the sound Lanegan makes. However hard-edged the vibe or menacing the lyrics with Lanegan there’s an inescapable caress involved; he sings to embrace you. And he embraces melody, however darkly presented. The music, meanwhile, is more canny than it lets on. As much as the song seems to draw on Delta blues for its spit and spirit, the thing nevertheless spills out with a triple-time feel. That juxtaposition, I think, opens the ear, at least for me, as I tend to like blues that are tweaked more than the standard-issue stuff. And note too that for all the percussive momentum here, the guitar is given the spine-tingling moments. That off chord it hits, first at 0:53, barely audible and yet seething with eloquence, just about nails the whole song—my ear semi-consciously salutes its return each time after that.
“Gravedigger’s Song” is from the album Blues Funeral, released in February on 4AD Records. It’s his seventh solo album, and his first since 2004’s Bubblegum, as well as his first following the Campbell trilogy (note they were featured once on Fingertips, in January 2006.) MP3 via 4AD Records. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.
And I may as well point out that Lanegan has also been featured here for his duet with the Swedish singer/songwriter Maggie Björklund, in May of last year.
photo credit: Anna Hrnjak