SWMRS – ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’

By Gem Rogers

For a band who began life back in 2004, SWMRS have taken their time – via a 2015 name change from Emily’s Army – in rising in the punk rock ranks. The first album under their new name, ‘Drive North’, was released in 2016 and brought a significant increase in attention for the California group; their signing to the renowned Fueled By Ramen label shortly afterwards was a sure sign of their growing reputation. If ever there was a time to prove themselves, new album ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’ is it for SWMRS – so will they sink or, er, swim (sorry)?

Just a glance down the tracklisting should be enough to tempt in most music fans – ‘IKEA Date’, ‘Steve Got Robbed’ and ‘Trashbag Baby’ are the sort of intriguing titles that beg for a listen – but there’s a lot more to SWMRS than novel song naming abilities. The album kicks off with the jangly, punky title track ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’, a song that unapologetically addresses the American political climate with irrepressible attitude and hooks to match. The dual vocals of brothers Cole and Max Becker add an interesting dynamic; switching rapidly in places and harmonising in a gang-vocal fashion in others, there’s an added frenetic feeling of pace and urgency in their words that’s particularly noticable on this opening track, as well as others like ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Trashbag Baby’.

Slipped in early on in the album is a track that may be one of the best SWMRS have produced to date – the catchy, defiant anthem ‘Lose Lose Lose’ with its deliciously chantable chorus is instantly memorable. Sombre single ‘April In Houston’ is also a standout, and the band seem to have overall been able to refine their sound into something individually much more distinctive across the ten tracks on ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’.

The slick production on the record makes for an easy listening experience and no doubt broadens the band’s appeal, though it does dull some of the bite at times – ‘Lonely Ghosts’ is a good example of a track that feels like it has a lot more edge to give. There’s also a tendency for some of the songs to border on being too repetitive – once noticed, it becomes a little grating, and some could certainly have done with a few choruses being removed. They’re small niggles on an otherwise solid album, though, and by no means affect the sentiments being expressed.

With ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’, SWMRS are poised to take punk back to a wider audience at a time when the genre is dearly needed. It’s accessible, creative, and melodic, blending in poppy hooks without losing any of the punk spirit. This is music that is, as all good punk should be, for the disenfranchised youth; people dealing with challenges the like of which have never been seen before. The onslaught of technology and pressures of social media, the never ending cycle of bad news – not to mention the delicate global political situation – SWMRS have provided an escape without ignoring these issues, addressing them in an unashamed head-on fashion that speaks to a troubled generation. There’s nobody else doing quite what these four musicians are right now, and that’s why SWMRS deserve your attention – ‘Berkeley’s On Fire’ is only the beginning.

GEM ROGERS

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