Reviews:: The Tom Fun Orchestra - You Will Land With A Thud

Normally, when you see the word "orchestra" attached to an indie act, it's intended in an ironic fashion. It's either one dude with 7 toy Casio keyboards billing himself as an Orchestra, or three scruffy dudes playing decidedly un-orchestra like rock & roll. This scenario plays out roughly 99% of the time, but I can introduce you to that remaining 1%: Sydney, Nova Scotia's Tom Fun Orchestra and their new album You Will Land With A Thud.

Not to suggest that this nine-piece extravaganza makes music that is anything close to orchestral, but their size and raucous, sweeping sound certainly means the Orchestra tag makes more sense for them then it does for yer man with the Casios. That big sound is headlined by the growl of frontman Johnny Turbo, who sounds like either an 80's Saturday morning cartoon hero or a badly named Mafia driver, and provided by the capable Tom Fun players and their plethora of instruments. What's in that plethora you ask? How about a trio of guitars, violin, upright bass, accordion, banjo, drums, mandolin, clarinet, trumpet, and shaky bass. I don't know what a shaky bass is exactly, but it sounds mighty cool.

This album also sounds mighty cool, which is a fairly impressive feat for a collective this size. Its one thing for a group like this to be impressive live, and Tom Fun has certainly established a reputation in the Maritimes as an outstanding live act. But often the visual impact and energy of such a large group will carry the day during a live performance. On record, that many people and that many instruments can often result in a kind of organized noise that doesn't do the band justice. Thankfully, that isn't the case on You Will Land With A Thud, as the various players give each other enough space to create the energetic, chaotic-yet-melodic sound found throughout the album. The talent assembled to help make the album certainly didn't hurt the cause, as Gordon Gano (The Violent Femmes) & Warren Bruleigh (the Violent Femmes, Louise Attaque) handled production duties, the mixing was done by Phil Palazzola (The New Pornographers), and it was mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, White Stripes).

Not bad for a little band (well, figuratively speaking) from Cape Breton. Despite their home island's reputation for traditional, east coast music, Tom Fun looks to a number of diverse sources for inspiration. The Waits-ian When You Were Mine opens the album in a more subdued fashion than I would've expected, but its tale of birthing a tiny, slimy spy and sending him off to Lithuania and Syria is a good intro to Turbo's vivid, storytelling style. The horn-filled Rum & Tequilla brings jook joint jazz to mind, while Tar Pond Tango is certainly the only latin-tinged song about Cape Breton's famous environmental nightmare. Highway Siren Song Breakdown and its irresistible electric blues guitar & harmonica combo spins a tale of a 70's drug run through Oklahoma and is un-expectedly one of the album highlights for me.

I can certainly appreciate the influences found on those aforementioned songs, but it's on the more wide open, cluster-rock songs where the band really shines. Songs like Throw Me To The Rats, Watchmaker, Last Of The Curious Thieves, and Heart Attack In An Old Motel showcase the band in full force, and are all quite powerful. Watchmaker and Last Of The Curious Thieves both have prominent vocal contributions from Alicia Penney, and her soulful voice works as a nice counterpoint to Turbo's gruff delivery.

Anyway, this review is already as large as Tom Fun's roster, so I'm simply going to stop right here and encourage you to check out You Will Land With A Thud. It's really quite enjoyable, and will not only help you shake off winter's doldrums, but it will keep you grooving through the spring and into the summer.

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MP3:: Tom Fun Orchestra - Watchmaker
MP3:: Tom Fun Orchestra - Last of the Curious Thieves

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