Here in Texas if a singer wore a “Get Naked/Buy Us Beer” shirt you’d get pretty good odds that the band in question was frat-boy rock. You see that’s what Zak Zuzula was wearing in the first video by The Tosspints that I ever watched, it was a live video I discovered while going down some YouTube rabbit hole what’s had it origins lost in my sieve of a brain. After watching them tear up a couple of Irish classics I clicked a few more things and was the proud owner of a digital copy of Have You Been Drinking! Now if this were just some Irish ballads I wouldn’t bother posting here about it; after all records full of traditional Irish songs are a dime a dozen.
Zak, his brother Don, and drummer John Johnson are anything but traditional and the album only has two songs I’d call Irish: “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya” and “Come Out Ye Black And Tans”, which are both loads of fun but they aren’t the stand out tracks. From the opening track, “Genocide Is Painless”, this is a dark album and it does a good job of it. What it doesn’t do a good job of is being easy to define. Hell even if I didn’t hate the idea of genres this record wouldn’t be an easy one to pigeonhole. There are the obvious Irish influences along with punk, folk, gypsy and more and what ties it all together is the writing. Drawing from working class backgrounds, Don’s combat experience, and life in general the lyrics are what keeps me coming back to this one.
There’s just something real about the way these songs are written. The last track, “Blood Or Whiskey”, a song about a soldier and his thoughts from the battlefield and from home after the war, has some of the most haunting lyrics I’ve heard in a while. Wonder as I sit and stare/That foreign man way over there/Well what’s his name/And is he scared like me/Does he have a wife and boy at home/Or is he in this all alone/If I take his life will anyone cry his name… It’s a helluva track with which to close an album. No respite from the darkness, no escape. Even the love song a couple of tracks back from “Blood Or Whiskey”, “Eleanor”, while beautiful is one that will have you killing bottles of Clontarf. The stories that are portrayed, while bleak, feel very personal and drew me in a little farther each listen. I can feel the icy cold on my skin when I get shivers from “Our Last Breath”, a tender little murder/suicide ballad, What could be more romantic/Than to die by the light of the moon…
Now I realize I’m harping on the writing but that’s only because it’s what really impressed me. As a band these guys are tight and the music they choose to use to tell their stories is selected very well. For the most part this is a rocker of an album and one that has me tapping my foot, with the headphones screwed securely to my head, whilst trying to avoid doing any actual work. I’m going to go ahead and call this one Essential Listening even if it seems a little off the beaten path for our little corner of the web. It’s most assuredly worth taking a chance on. How can you not give a chance to band that has albums named 11 Empty Bottles, Cenosillicaphobia, and Have You Been Drinking?
Cenosillicaphobia: The fear of an empty glass