Celtic Crossovers

The Tossers, an edgy band from the South Side of Chicago, channel age-old Irish Catholic mantra through urban punk sound in their new album titled The Valley of the Shadow of Death. Although one might be initially skeptical of the red and black gothic imagery staining the disc’s artwork, these seven punk rockers’ music is surprisingly upbeat in its rhythm, and resolute in its message.

With Bones on drums, Aaron Duggins on the tin whistle, Tony Duggins as vocals and on the mandolin, Clay Hansen on the banjo, Mike Pawula on guitar, Rebecca Manthe on fiddle, and Dan Shaw on bass and accordion, the Tossers are born out of “their own brew of Celtic music fueled by a love of traditional folk songs and punk rock fury,” according to the band’s website.

This unique combination results in seemingly cheery, Irish-tinged tunes that are actually discussing much more serious topics. Their message is one of dissolution and an eternal degeneration of cultural morality. However, it is cleverly masked by a throwback to traditional Celtic sounds.

The band members, who have been together since the early 1990s, live by the ideals of “consuming mass amounts of alcohol, playing all night, and not getting paid,” said Hansen. Proud of their keenness for alcohol, the Tossers embrace their Irish Catholic heritage as they are willing to play “anywhere, anytime, for anybody, with anybody,” said Hansen.

In keeping with this spirit of booze and brotherhood, and of a “furious edge that teeters between rage and raucousness,” the group’s fifth album is fueled by a restless desire for the spirit of the underground, urban Celtic culture to be revealed. The third track, aptly titled “No Loot, No Booze, No Fun,” darkly describes how “the sun does rise, the birds do sing … [but] there’s nowhere to sleep, nothing to do … nowhere to go, belonging to no one.” Depressing, a bit. But the artists manage to incorporate this misery into a buoyant, fiddle-drawn beat. Perhaps this is why they’ve been around for 12 years — they have a knack for tricking the listener into absorbing the sounds of traditional Irish music while leaving him or her with a much deeper meaning.

So, then, can you listen to the Tossers and avoid being drawn down by their overall melancholy outlook? The Celtic overtone is interesting, and if you’re in the mood for knocking one back, these modern-day Irish clansmen will be with you every step of the way. If you can look past the desolate, skeleton-clad cover and be open to a group of city-dwellers who, to some degree, picture themselves as ancient Irish settlers, then you will find that maybe they truly have something to offer — hyperactive rhythms and culturally resistant anthems intact.