The Tosspints – 11 Empty Bottles
New CD a Masterpiece of Revolutionary Music Bordering on Dadaist Truth
by Bo White
I’ve learned never to underestimate The Tosspints. As soon as one thinks they know their bag, they come out of left field throwing musical knuckleballs that leave one scratching one’s head. In 11 Empty Bottles the Tosspints reach down deep to tell a story of such abject misery that I had to listen with my headphones on and the volume muted. The resolution of the sorrow comes with self knowledge and acceptance. It is the only way out of hell. That the band has a collective appreciation of dark humor helps gives the disc its humanity.
Welcome to 11 Empty Bottles, a ragged punk symphony that reaches toward a spiraling netherland that few want to travel. The music is nothing less than revolutionary.
The Tosspints primitive sound poems battered my brain and annihilated my senses. I was disturbed by its terrifying images of fallen humanity and totally blown away by their stark honesty.
Zak Zuzula writes most of the songs while the chief cook and bottle washer brother Don seems comfortable in the back seat, gazing out the window. However, his presence is clearly significant and his songs and singing are the highlight of the disc, with two crucial exceptions (both sung by Don) Zak’s Death is a Funny Thing and Johnny Johnson’s incredible I’ll Give You Nothing.
Let’s get started…grab a Guinness, hunker down and don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.
I’m F#$*in’ Drunk rumbles like an earthquake, it opens that disc with a frantic speed like Bowles ditching Holmes at Daytona Beach. Zuzula does not mince words or spare feelings. He paints a vivid picture of despair with a quality of nouveau realisme. The song contains a strange paradox in which an ugly truth may prove to be liberating.
Young Girl, Bad Idea is like a Shakespearean comedy with equal measures of tragedy and humor cloaked in punk rhythms. The tongue-in-cheek tension is between the Apollonian and Dionysian – music and poetry versus ecstasy and intoxication. The song is a winner with a well conceived hilarity wrapped around a time-worn sexual paradox…should I or shouldn’t I…it wouldn’t hurt… just this one time. Underneath this potent froth is a serious issue.
Satan’s Little Whore is an emotional train wreck. Johnson’s sloppy drum riffs set the pace and they couldn’t be more perfect in creating a musical landscape of despair. This is how a broken heart speaks to you. Nothing is rehearsed. Zuzula reaches down to the fifth circle of hell where he can find no joy in the universe. And he lets his anger spill out and froth without any editing. It ain’t pretty.
Land Far Away is Zak’s 4thinstallment of the first suite of songs on the CD that describe the events that lead the protagonist to go off to war. It offers a refrain of the themes of infidelity and betrayal that crushed the spirit of our protagonist and led him to sign up with the military and bid adieu to family and friends and the familiar. It provides a neat segue to Soldier’s Song, an honest portrayal of a young man’s fear and loneliness in the trenches fighting someone else’s war. Johnson’s brutal drumming keeps a breathless pace that signals the urgency in the lyric…”Let me go home, Lord I want to go home”.
Death is a Funny Thing is one of the best songs on the CD. Johnson pounds the bass drum like a heartbeat in a short story by Edgar Alan Poe while Don Zuzula plays an incredible nuclear powered rhythm riffs like Townsend in ’72. Zuzula takes each verse, every phrase and reaches into the core of his being. He is paying witness to a friend’s dying. The tension builds into a crescendo and as the song races to its conclusion Zuzula’s voice erupts like a volcano.
The Wreck of the Medusa is an epic punk symphony with tempo changes, minor chords, strong lead singing, echoed vocals and whispered pleas. The song is inspired by an actual event in 1816 that was immortalized in a painting by Theodore Gericault. The sinking of the Medusa was a turning point in the revolt against the Bourbon Monarchy and became the catalyst for the French Revolution.
Zuzula molded this epic tale like a sculptor molding and shaping diverse tonal elements into a cohesive and remarkable sound. This is an historical piece that is unrelated to the basic concept of 11 Empty Bottles. But somehow it fits-in quite nicely. The refrain echoes the similar themes about death and war…”Don’t let me die this way.” It is a masterwork!
I Couldn’t Do It Alone riffs along like Lotte Lenya doing Kurt Weill on speed. The sound is a sonic firestorm. Everything – the guitars and vocals are up front in the mix and HOT – giving the song and incredible emotional valence. It’s loud and cacophonous…explosive - the sound of a heart breaking. Lyrically sophisticated, the song tells the story of a soldier that makes a promise that is impossible for him to keep, to bring his comrade home safely. This is very difficult to listen to. It’s like watching No Country for Old Men with one eye shut and your head averted.
My Own Sinking Ship. Johnson’s speeded up shuffle offers a counterpoint to Zuzula’s steady full-bodied baritone. The dark humor in the lyric is a beacon of light and hope in an otherwise drastic message. The la-la-las in the chorus are like a tongue in the cheek, offering respite from an unrelenting ennui and a sense that life is like a sinking ship. He’s gotta learn to swim real fast. Great Fun.
Almost Home is a bare acoustic ballad just Don Zuzula and his guitar, honest and down home. It’s a story about longing and maybe just a few regrets. It’s about life on the road as a musician where life can be a series of a minute at a time, sitting back and watching it all go by. Every moment on the road gets him closer to his goal. This is a song you can listen to over and over again… exquisite.
11 Empty Bottles and 1 Beer, 1 Shot 1 Memory are companion pieces that reprise earlier themes of infidelity, booze, loneliness. In the first song the singer is nearly mad with grief. The second piece reveals the singer’s growing acceptance for who he is and his uncertain future.
Sing to Kill is a classical tone poem about courage and integrity. Zuzula’s imagery is a fascinating evocation of something ancient and true from English prison ships, ocean moons, skin so faire and light, and van diemens land. He paints his songs in broad metaphorical strokes about our modern empire and speaks directly about his hopes to control his own destiny and live the life he chooses. The Rebel’s Life.
I’ll Give You Nothing is the sleeper on this CD. John Johnson’s sole contribution may be the finest song on the disc. It’s deeply ironic and breathtakingly open and honest. Don Zuzula sings it masterfully as if it were his own:
“I won’t have the ending you’ve been waiting for all your life
The one where we ride off with everyone waving
The one where my life is still somewhat worth saving
If you take me under your wing
But kill every thought I’m left to sing
I’ll give you what’s inside of me
I’ll give what’s inside
I’ll give you nothing”
With this disc the Tosspints are moving away from the “Celtic” part of punk to fashion their own unique sound, a mixture of hard rock, baroque tone poems, and acoustic folk layered by reoccurring themes that reach an imperfect but very human resolution as the disc ends.
This is revolutionary music that borders on dadist truth. Don Zuzula offers this story as an example:
While stationed in the sands and heat of Iraq, Don was part of a armored truck division. Each driver would spray paint a patriotic phrase on his vehicle for inspiration. Many of the phrases were typical of the spirit of the times. Phrases like: Death to Al Qeada, only Don wrote instead…No Fat Chicks.