Put+the+Needle+on+the+Record


Review by Lisa Purchase Kelly

Cenosillicaphobia (n): the debilitating fear of an empty glass

When cooking with quality ingredients, if they are expertly mixed by an experienced and creative chef, it's best to leave things simple and let those ingredients speak for themselves. Overwrought techniques, a laundry list of ingredients, or a cacophony of spices will sully the dish for the sake of showing off. The flavors of just a few fine elements, with a bit of professional polish, makes for the most memorable experience. With that philosophy The Tosspints are serving up their newest album, Cenosillicaphobia. With the essential components of hard-driving guitar, electric bass, and street-punk drum kit, mixed with vocals heavily spiced with profanity, Irish punk is a dish best served raw. The sound on the album is nicely mixed and layered by producer Andy Reed, refining the Tosspints' signature stage sound just enough to perfectly present this platter.

Yes, platter. As in, old-school vinyl album. To further belabor the cooking metaphor: when serving up a creative concoction, presentation counts. The Tosspints' second album is presented in multiple media—MP3 download available everywhere for your convenience (at CDBaby, Amazon, Emusic, MooZone, tradebit, and of course iTunes), and on vinyl album for style, nostalgia, and tactile tangibility.

Tosspints frontman Donny Zuzula explains their retro choice: "When I was 3 or 4 years old we had this record player, and I can remember going through the drawer to pick out 45s to put on it. In the late 80s my family made the switch to CDs and tapes, and the record player went to my room, and I started to collect records. It seems like records are more of an experience when you listen to them; the cover art, and the warmth of the sound. This became a connection to my father-in-law too; LeighAnn's father is an audiophile and has this huge record collection. There's a warmth to the sound on vinyl that appeals to audiophiles.

"And there's this permanence to record albums that … it's like in Planet of the Apes, or in Mad Max; hundreds of years in the future, after the apocalypse, they come across a record, and they're able to play it. It's still there. It's something solid. Putting music on a record feels more substantial."

Playing together as The Tosspints since 2007, brothers Don Zuzula and Zak Zuzula, along with drummer John Johnson, are a high-energy stage show with a lot of passion and presence. Taking their band name from a Pogues song, The Tosspints carry on the Irish pub-punk tradition of channeling anger and angst into something you can dance to. Now this trio of collaborative composers has put together a second album of original songs about drinking, death, and despair; an album that is just as hard-driving as their stage show and their first album.

"We've been through a lot together—our dad died when we were young, I've been to war, terrible things have happened to people in our lives—so we write what we know. I think there's something to be said for getting emotions out rather than sitting on them. Plus, it's just good story-telling … what else are we going to write about; suburbia and our jobs? Truth is stranger than fiction, you just have to find the stories in it."

Some of the best tracks on both albums are the most miserable stories—the closing track on Cenosillicaphobia is the story of a dying soldier, echoing a track on the previous album, the same story told from different viewpoints—but those are also the songs that really make you have to get up and dance. The driving drum licks and sassy guitar hooks and gritty lyrics swing the sad stories out of the basement of the soul and up into the stratosphere, and on its way up it can pull you right out of your chair with it. And it won't be anything fancy when you do find yourself on your feet; you'll be jumping up and down, pounding the air with both your fists, and yelling the words back at the stereo as soon as you learn enough of them. These songs turn a lament into a war whoop.

And when you fall down exhausted at the end of the song (and that's pretty much all there is to do if you've jumped up and down and shouted through the whole song), you feel …. giddy. And loud. And alive. Like you're ready to take on the world. Just as soon as you catch your breath, that is. With a listen to this album suddenly we're all angry young Irish lads, ready for a pub brawl, ready to grab the world by the lapels, kick somebody in the shins, and take back control of … anything. The way things are going these days, it's pretty exhilarating to feel that sense of fiery energy and belligerence for a short while. We're not gonna take this any more. Yeah. The drum sound is a key component of the excitement and energy of a lot of the songs on this album. "Andy Reed is awesome at recording everything, but especially drums. He's got this classic 60's drumset at the studio, and recording that in analog gives this album a "big drums" sound. John plays his ass off on these songs, and part of the drive for him is that we're the first band he's worked with where he's writing his own parts, and he can just go nuts."

The seventh track, "One Last Shot," is a great example of this drum- driven energy. It's a tragic tale of a soldier pinned down under enemy fire, digging into a foxhole that he's certain will be his own grave, caught between becoming a prisoner of war or taking the shot that will end it all. Depressing stuff. But it's told with a chugging drum frenzy to open the tune, followed up by mellow surfer-style guitar that picks up momentum as it shifts into the crowded vocals, all barreling down the tracks together to keep this tragic tale a freight train of energy and emotion that leaves the listener exhilarated.

Making this collection of songs into a vinyl album was a labor of love, requiring great personal sacrifice, steadfast patience and faith, and heaps of money. In addition to the money out of Donny's own pocket, and the percentage of show money the band always sets aside toward recording costs, they did some innovative fundraising on Kickstarter.com. This allowed the Tosspints to offer incentives for people who donated money, in amounts both large and small, which finally added up to the amount they needed to get the record made. Key contributors are mentioned in the liner notes, are invited guests at the release party, and of course get a signed copy of the album. [My husband and I were minor contributors in this manner, and I have to say, it feels good to have had a hand in making something happen, getting something done, building something with a community of other fans. We are no longer just an audience sitting idling and waiting for entertainment to fall into our laps, we are co-conspirators and—creators. I see this kind of thinking translating into the larger community too: community gardens and neighborhood projects. We used to make things here; why not do what we can to make things happen again, create something we all can use? None of us can do everything, but any of us can do a little something and make it count. In the general scheme of things a record album is a small thing, but it's something.]

The determination to put Cenosillicaphobia on vinyl was fueled by more than just nostalgia. Having the right studio and producer right here in town also helped steer the recording in that direction. "Andy Reed was excited about vinyl. He records in analog, which keeps the depth and warmth in the sound … why would you want to put digital recording onto an analog medium? So his studio was definitely the right place to go for this," said Donny. "And he's got a lot of experience under his belt, he knows what he's doing with this, he can record and mix at the same time so you're getting double effort for the time you're paying for. He put 110% into this. This album would not be nearly as good as it is without his input and feedback. He wants to try things and make it sound good. He's part of the effort."

The cover art was another key ingredient and a motivating factor for Donny to make this second collection of songs a vinyl album. The album cover is by graphic designer Dylan McConnell, a Seattle-based artist who has done hundreds of album covers and posters, including some recent work for SXSW, The Hold Steady, and The Meat Puppets.  Don is has long been a fan of his work, which tends to be spare and bold, with a vintage slant, and eye-popping colors that grab and keep your attention (examples can be seen at McConnell's website tinylittlehammers.com).

From the talented and passionate musicians, to the classic cover artist, to the experienced producer, to the dedicated donors who sent in money, apparently it takes a village to make a vinyl. But after a long journey with many delays and obstacles, the album is finally here and is ready to be unleashed on the world. Our vinyl copy will end up in my fifteen-year-old son's room—he's also a huge Tosspints fan, and he's the one with the record player—and the MP3 download that comes with it will be on our computer and iPods. I think we'll even get him a frame for the album cover; his walls could use some great art. In both form and content, The Tosspints' Cenosillicaphobia is well worth having. To gets yours, visit The Tosspints' website (www.thetosspints.com) or any major online music outlet. Or better yet, go see The Tosspints perform and get your copy there.

"Our official album release date, now that I finally have the album in my hands, is October 15th," said Don."We're playing at The Vault in Bay City, and our friends The Banana Convention is also playing the show. We were supposed to be opening the show with one of my favorite bands in the whole world, The Tossers, but they have run into a situation where they are not going to be able to do this show. We were disappointed, but we are happy to have The Banana Convention with us, and we finally get to release our vinyl record. We're gonna throw a party for the people who really care and support us, and it's going to be a great show."

© Lisa Purchase Kelly, 2011