Free and legal MP3: TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb (gypsy folk punk, or some such thing)

Affable, semi-apocalyptic stomper with gypsy spirit and a goofy heart.

TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb

“Eye Witness on the Run” – TJ Kong and The Atomic Bomb

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

Free and legal MP3: Noah and the MegaFauna (Django-inspired indie pop)

World-music rhythms, elegant gypsy flourishes, and the beauty of thoughtfully composed melody lines sung with pleasure and command

Noah and the MegaFauna

“On and On” – Noah and the MegaFauna

A happy combination of style and substance. Front man Noah Lit makes no bones about his admiration for the so-called “gypsy jazz” of Django Reinhardt, but he has funneled his devotion through a filter of rock’n’roll songcraft, as he is likewise an attentive student of the Beatles, the Kinks, Wilco, Radiohead, and other masters of the form past and present. The end result is something at once exotic and immediate. We get world-music rhythms, elegant gypsy flourishes, and the beauty of thoughtfully composed melody lines sung with pleasure and command.

We’ve heard similar sounds coming out of the indie rock world over the last decade; Beirut in particular comes to mind. Properly done, I don’t think we can get too much of this stuff. When you combine thoughtful songwriting with musical flair and instrumental virtuosity, there’s not much to complain about, as far as I’m concerned. Lit helps himself a lot with his agile singing. even as I have no idea what he’s singing about. This is one of those songs in which the words exist more for their sonic qualities than their meaning. In and around the evocative soundscape, they weave a spell. By the time the gypsy instruments move center stage (2:42), there is nothing to do but surrender.

Lit is based in Los Angeles and was previously in a band called Oliver Future. “On and On” is a track from the album Anthems for a Stateless Nation, which was actually released back in October on Silence Breaks Records, but appears to have fallen into something of a black hole since then. Well worth seeking out. MP3 via Magnet Magazine.