We love weeks like this. We complain about weeks like this, but we love them. The music business is a tireless beast, and it only really slows down for a few moments per year — times like SXSW week, or the last couple of weeks of the year. Thanksgiving is one of those moments. The neverending, exhausting firehose-spray of new music slows to a trickle. Since we at Stereogum are committed to anointing an Album Of The Week on virtually every week of the year, that forces us to go into scramble mode, to really get our critic brains working, when there isn’t too much new music out. And that’s how an album like Infernal, the sophomore LP from the Southern California punk band Tozcos, can get the kind of recognition that might’ve otherwise evaded it.
Infernal came out today — an old-school Tuesday release in a universal Friday release-date era. The album isn’t even on streaming services yet; as I write this, it’s a Bandcamp exclusive. We didn’t get promo copies, so this is an immediate-reaction Premature Evaluation type of review. Tozcos are not a particularly famous band. Their Spotify monthly plays are in the low thousands. As far as I can tell, they don’t have any sort of publicist behind them, and online information is scant. Tozcos have been around for a full decade, but their debut album Sueños Deceptivos came out five years ago, and Infernal is their first new release since then. I was mostly excited for the release of Infernal because Tozcos’ video for lead single “Presos” is fucking awesome.
In both tone and content, the “Presos” video is a near-exact staging of the kind of hardcore punk performance that you might catch on extremely local early-’80s TV, a clip that you might find in a YouTube rabbit-hole deep-dive in the present day. The details are all note-perfect: The fuzzy grain of the VHS tape, the pink-and-purple neon, the sunglasses, guitarist Lemon’s mohawk/mullet situation. As someone who wore out the Decline Of Western Civilization VHS tape in high school, this shit goes straight to my soul. But the clip doesn’t just do the retro historical-reenactment thing. It also places Tozcos in a long and important lineage.
The members of Tozcos come from the Orange County city of Santa Ana, and they’re all Mexican-American. They’re part of a line of Lantinx punk bands that goes back to the genre’s very beginnings in California — back to the Zeros, the Stains, the Bags, the Gun Club, Suicidal Tendencies. Tozcos sing all their songs in Spanish, and their urgent melodic bounce is rooted in early-’80s Orange County. In their splintered surf-guitar riffage and feral hooks, you can hear echoes of Agent Orange, the Adolescents, and TSOL. But the fearsome immediacy of Tozcos’ music places them right in the present-day global punk zeitgeist.
At this moment, there are vital punk and hardcore scenes all over the planet. Great bands are coming from Indonesia, Colombia, South Korea — sometimes singing in English, sometimes in their own languages. That’s not really Tozcos’ situation, since their hometown has a rich and well-known punk history. But by singing their frantic pogo anthems in Spanish, Tozcos feel regional and international at the same time. I don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t have a lyric sheet to run through Google Translate, so I know I’m not getting the full Infernal experience. But I know a great punk record when I hear one, and Infernal is a great punk record.
Some of it is in the vocals. Singer Monse is a huge, charismatic presence, and she bites down on every word with vengeful relish. Some of it is in the band’s interplay. The three instrumentalists in Tozcos clearly know each other very well, and they can play fast without losing intricacy. Punk is supposed to be simple and direct, but with many of the best punk bands — Rancid remains my favorite example — you can still hear the personalities of the different musicians coming through loud and clear. That’s how it is with Tozcos.
Tozcos bassist K Lo reminds me of Rancid’s Matt Freeman; he’s full of rich and twisty melodic riffs that do a whole lot more than keep time. In some of the best moments on the record, he takes the lead. Guitarist Lemon has a frayed, fractured, treble-drunk tone. He always sounds like he’s about to come flying off the track, and that rawness is important to the ferocity of the sound. Drummer Corrina keeps the speed up to almost unstable levels, playing with rigor and flare. Together, they’re a beast.
Tozcos’ debut Sueños Deceptivos was an impressive punk record, but Infernal represents a huge leap up in every way. Where their recordings once sounded tinny and slapdash, the production of Infernal is sharp and rich. The songwriting is stronger, too. Hardcore bands don’t really have to mess around with hooks or melodies anymore, but Tozcos’ choruses are insistent and memorable, with the same kind of songcraft that their Orange County progenitors brought to the game. Infernal blasts by in well under half an hour, but it leaves an impression. It’s easy to overlook a fierce, fiery DIY punk record like Infernal, but you shouldn’t. It’s too strong, too angry, and too much fun to slip past. Dive in.
Infernal is out now on Toxic State Records/Quality Control HQ. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Guided By Voices’ Nowhere To Go But Up
• Busta Rhymes’ Blockbusta
• Czarface’s Czartificial Intelligence
• Dierdre’s Heart Work
• Blinker The Star’s Animal Math
• Cruciamentum’s Obsidian Refractions
• Raze Regal & White Denim Inc self-titled LP.
• Smile High’s The Vibetape
• Apashe’s Antagonist
• Spector’s Here Come The Early Nights
• Aviva’s Hate 2 Luv U
• Norah Jones’ Playing Along
• Joe Jackson – Mr. Joe Jackson Presents: Max Champion In ‘What A Racket!’
• Take That’s This Life
• My Morning Jacket’s Happy Holiday
• DJ Muggs & Dean Hurley’s Divinity score
• Bill Gould & Jared Blum’s The Eclipse score
• The Light In The Attic & Friends compilation
• The Veldt’s Illuminated 1989
• Screaming Trees’ Live At Egg Studios
• Margo Price’s Strays (Live At Grimey’s)
• Tina Turner’s Queen Of Rock ‘n’ Roll anthology
• Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS: the secret tracks EP
• O.’s Slice EP
• Teen Daze’s Quiet City EP
• Joystick’s Dwell EP
• Snow Strippers’ Night Killaz Vol 1 EP
• The Japanese House’s ITEIAD Sessions EP