The first time I heard TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb was 2008 at the Blue Room in South Philly, drummer Dan Martino’s former house-turned-venue, where Martino and guitarist/vocalist Dan Bruskewicz’s rollicking, harmonica-charged cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” gave gravely blues a punk backbeat. Since then, the band—now a four-piece with Kevin Conner on lead guitar and Joshua Machiz on upright bass—has become one of the most adored acts in the city, and Thursday night, they’ll drop Manufacturing Joy, their second full-length, with an album release show at Johnny Brenda’s.
Although the group has a wide swath of influences, their whiskey-tinged sound is deeply rooted in the same folky Americana highlighted in musicologist Alan Lomax’s classic archival field recordings from generations ago, which Bruskewicz says helped motivate the new record. “When me and Dan [Martino] first started recording, we were doing it very, very lo-fi. And what was sort of our inspiration was some of these old blues recordings. They just had one mic, and the creativity of it came from the performance, not the recording. That’s what we sort of brought to it from the beginning.”
The boys recorded half of Manufacturing Joy in a Fishtown warehouse and the other half on their four-track tape machine. “This time we went back to our original idea of recording very raw, and if it doesn’t sound good, at least it will sound real,” says Bruskewicz. Their live-in-the-studio approach is a smart one, evidenced by shit-kickers like “Friday Night Guy” or the alluring beauty of opener “Rock ‘N Roll Club Bathroom Cocaine Blues.”
Although the band is self-releasing Joy for download on Bandcamp and iTunes, the CDs for sale at their party will feature bonus tracks and extra artwork at a lower price. Bruskewicz and I note that while CDs are becoming outdated, bands continue to release their music on older formats, like cassette tapes. When I joke that Edison wax cylinders will be the next wave, Bruskewicz laughingly confesses they’ve already considered it. “A friend of mine actually said that the other day, that we should just start recording everything on wax cylinders. We’d spend $100,000 and just make five and sell them for $50,000 apiece. Then we’ll start a new trend.”
Thurs., Sept. 27, 8pm. $10. With Toy Soldiers, Double King + the Looks of It. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
PW's Music Issue 2014